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May 27, 2014

No sign of 3 men in mudslide

COLLBRAN, Colo. — Rescue teams failed to find any sign Monday of three men missing after a ridge saturated with rain collapsed, sending mud sliding for 3 miles in a remote part of western Colorado.

Clancy Nichols, 51, a county road and bridge employee, his son Danny, 24, and Wes Hawkins, 46, have been missing since Sunday after the ridge collapsed. They went to check on damage 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.

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 and about a half mile wide.

“Everyone on this mountain is praying for a miracle right now,” Hilkey said.

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. Hilkey believes runoff from Grand Mesa from recent rain triggered the slide. A hydrologist from the Natural Weather Service and a geologist from the U.S. Geological Survey were helping authorities assess the situation.

Hawkins’ cousin, Bill Clark, said he went along with Clancy and Danny Nichols to check on why an irrigation ditch had stopped flowing because he works for an area water district. He said he has a family and young children.

Clark, who visited the canyon where the slide struck, said it was completely filled with mud. He said the slide struck with so much force that some also spilled over into the neighboring draw.

From 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.

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