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Published: Monday, 5/26/2014 - Updated: 11 months ago

Crews search for 3 people in Colorado mudslide


COLLBRAN, Colo. — Rescue teams were searching today for three men reported missing after a ridge collapsed in a remote part of western Colorado following heavy rain.

Authorities estimated the mudslide to be 4 miles long, 2 miles wide and as 250 feet deep in many places, but said no structures or major roads were affected. It hit Sunday near the town of Collbran, about 40 miles east of Grand Junction and near the edge of Grand Mesa, one of the world’s largest flat topped mountains. Deputies estimate that the entire ridge had been moving for most of Sunday before someone called to report the slide at 6:15 p.m., describing it as sounding like a freight train.

Mesa County Sheriff’s Office dispatcher Amanda Orr said three men, all area residents, were unaccounted for. It wasn’t known if they were in the area impacted by the massive slide.

“This slide is unbelievably big,” said Mesa County Lt. Phil Stratton said.

From a distance of about 10 miles, the slide looked like a funnel, running from a ridgeline at or next to the flat-topped Grand Mesa and narrowing into a culvert below. It cut a giant channel through trees. Roads in the area, where some cattle grazed, were muddy from rain.

Collbran resident Lloyd Power was on the side of a road today, gazing out at the slide.

“How in the devil could this happen?” Power said.

He said residents were praying for the missing. “That’s all we can do,” Power said.

A sheriff’s helicopter was surveying the slide area today. Authorities erected a roadblock to keep onlookers from the slide area outside Collbran, a ranching town of about 700 people that also serves as a gateway to outdoor recreation like hiking and fishing. The slide is near Salt Creek Road and Vega Reservoir, which is in a state park.

The area is part of the Piceance Basin, one of Colorado’s largest natural gas producing areas. Mud came up to the edge of three wells owned by the Occidental Petroleum Corp. and workers manually shut down the wells and connecting pipelines Sunday in case the slide continued to spread, said David Ludlam, executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil & Gas Association, a trade group. No spills have been reported. Other operators are also monitoring wells, he said.

Authorities say heavy rains that fell over the weekend contributed to the slide but it’s not clear how much rain fell where the slide occurred. Nearby rain gauges showed that thunderstorms dropped between 0.7 and 1.2 inches of rain over the weekend but the closest gauge is 9 miles away. National Weather Service meteorologist Tom Renwick said the tally isn’t a very dramatic amount but he said it’s possible that a thunderstorm dumped even more rain over the slide area.

The slide occurred about two months after a massive mudslide hit the Washington state community of Oso on March 22, killing 43 people.

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