Search efforts unsafe, challenging after mudslide

By: Amy Lipman Email
By: Amy Lipman Email

COLLBRAN, Colo. Sunday's mudslide near Collbran is the largest mudslide Mesa County Sheriff Stan Hilkey says he has ever seen.

"It's an understatement to say that it is massive," Sheriff Hilkey said.

The mudslide started at the top of the Grand Mesa where snow runoff and steady rain Sunday caused a rush of water, mud and debris down a valley called the Head Waters of West Salt Creek.

"It came down with so much force and velocity that it came to a hill and went up and over a hill then came back down," Sheriff Hilkey said. "A significant hill, so the power behind it was remarkable."

Three men, who the Mesa County Joint Information Center have identified as Wes Hawkins, Clancy Nichols and Danny Nichols, ventured to the area after noticing a problem with the irrigation system.

The men are still missing and unpredictable conditions in the mudslide meant search efforts were mostly contained to the air Monday.

"It was still falling as we were flying over it this morning," he said. "We saw massive cracks in the hillsides that give us an enormous amount of concern."

Grounds crews are only able to search the bottom portion of the slide until the conditions stabilize.

"We have to be comfortable of course before we're not going to put and allow search and rescue resources on there because we certainly don't want to create any more of a tragedy than this already is," Sheriff Hilkey said.

Clean up of the mud itself may not happen because of the remote area of the mudslide.

"What you’re looking at is the new terrain of that valley," Sheriff Hilkey said.

No homes were damaged or evacuated.

However, the mudslide did affect an active natural gas production facility. The well pads were shut off and the connective pipelines associated with them were drained. There are no immediate risks from the well pads to the area.

Rescue efforts are set to pick up again Tuesday morning to find the missing men.

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