Rescue teams are searching for three people reported missing after a large mudslide struck Sunday evening in western Colorado’s Mesa County that is estimated at 2 miles wide, 4 miles long and 250 feet deep. The slide hit in a remote area near the town of Collbran, about 40 miles east of Grand Junction on May 25, 2014.
Rescuers raced to the scene when it was reported around 6 p.m MDT, but eased operations after nightfall, Mesa County Sheriff’s spokeswoman Lisa McCammon said.
There’s 'not a lot of activity tonight,' she said. The 'slide area is very unstable.' She said a daylight search was safer.
The department estimated the slide is about 4 miles long, 2 miles wide and about 250 feet deep in many places. An entire ridge was believed to have been sliding for most of the day
'This slide is unbelievably big,' Mesa County Lt. Phil Stratton said.
The sheriff’s office said that the person who reported the slide at about 6:15 p.m. 'described hearing a noise that sounded much like a freight train.'
"The slide came down with so much force and velocity that it came to a hill and went up and over a hill and then came back down -- a significant hill. So the power behind it was remarkable," the sheriff said.
The missing men, a county road worker, his son and another man went to check on damage Sunday from an initial slide near the edge of Grand Mesa, one of the world’s largest flat-topped mountains, after a rancher reported that his irrigation ditch had stopped flowing, Mesa County Sheriff Stan Hilkey said.
Hilkey said no signs of the men or their truck have been found. The three missing people have been identified as 46-year-old Wes Hawkins, 53-year-old Clancy Nichols and his son 24-year-old son, Danny.
“Everyone on this mountain is praying for a miracle right now,” he said.
The search near the small town of Collbran has been hampered because only the lower third of the slide is stable. Even at the edges, the mud is 20 to 30 feet deep. It’s believed to be several hundred feet deep in some places.
Bill Clark, a cousin of one of the missing men, visited the canyon where the slide struck and said it was completely filled with mud. He said the slide struck with so much force that some also spilled over into the neighbouring draw.
“I’ve never seen so much earth move like that in my life,” he said.
From a distance of about 10 miles, the slide looked like a funnel, narrowing into a culvert below. It cut a giant channel through trees. The creek that once gradually flowed down the ridge now spurted down like a waterfall. Roads in the area, where some cattle grazed, were muddy from rain.
“How in the devil could this happen?” said Collbran resident Lloyd Power, gazing out at the slide.
He said residents were praying for the missing. “That’s all we can do,” Power said.
A unified incident command has been established between Plateau Valley Fire Department and the Mesa sheriff, to handle the slide and search for the people possibly caught in it.
Roadblocks have been set up to keep people from the rural area. Conditions are described as “very unstable” by authorities.