It’s been a difficult several days for the community of Collbran, west of Carbondale. The small town is near a massive mudslide that let loose over the Memorial Day weekend. Three men from the area are missing, and now search and rescue crews are on hold.
The search was suspended Tuesday, May 27th. Mesa County Sheriff Stan Hilkey said it’s too dangerous, to continue looking for the missing men at this time.
“We have suspended search operations with regards to anybody actually on the slide itself, it’s still determined to be unsafe.”
The three men are 51 year old Clancy Nichols, his 24 year old son Danny Nichols, and 47 year old Wes Hawkins. The elder Nichols works for Mesa County’s Road and Bridge department. At a press conference yesterday, the Sheriff described them as ranchers. The men were checking on conditions in the area when the slide hit on Sunday, and haven’t been heard from since. Sheriff Hilkey says the families understand the situation. Mr. Hawkins' family released a statement about him Tuesday afternoon: Wesley worked for the Collbran Conservancy District as the District Water Manager for the last 23 years. He was responsible for much of the water that flows through the Plateau Valley area… He was concerned for other families and their homes should the water system be compromised. He was performing these duties when the massive slide caught him and the other men." (Click here for more.)
For now, experts are keeping a close eye on a pond that is developing next to where the mudslide started.
“And it’s causing us major concern with another potential of a major earthen slide, that would come down this existing slide.”
So officials are focused on figuring out when the next slide could happen, and how to protect people living in the area. As of Tuesday afternoon, experts said the slide was about three miles long and more than a hundred feet deep. The width varies, from 3/4 of a mile at the top to 1/2 a mile wide in the middle.
Also yesterday, a geologist with the Colorado School of Mines, Jonathan White, said there was a landslide in this area before, and much of the immediate area is slide prone.
“Our biggest concern right now is upon the photo recon we did is that the entire slide did not all go at the same time.”
Sheriff Hilkey said he consulted with search and rescue officials in Washington State, where dozens died in a big slide earlier this spring.
“We learned a lot from them, about what to look for initially, but we’re now discovering the differences between us and that community and the type of slide it is.”
The Mesa County slide is so big, it’ll be difficult to do search operations like the ones in Washington; even once the landscape is deemed stable.
Officials also said yesterday they don’t believe oil and gas operations in the area could have contributed to the flow of mud and water.