3 missing in Mesa County mudslide ID'd

KUSA - Three people are missing after a mudslide in Mesa County that is estimated to be four miles long, two miles wide and 250 feet deep in many places.

Fifty-one-year-old county road worker Clancy Nichols, his 24-year-old son Danny and 46-year-old Wes Hawkins have been missing since Sunday after the rain-saturated ridge collapsed.

The area of the slide is near the Vega Reservoir on the Grand Mesa, just east of the small town of Collbran.

Mesa County Sheriff Stan Hilkey said the three men were sent up to investigate disrupted irrigation Sunday. They were traveling in a vehicle and a 4-wheeler when a second mudslide occurred.

A witness who called into dispatch described hearing a noise that sounded much like a freight train that is attributed to the slide.

Searchers looked for the men Monday at the lower end of the slide. The upper portion is considered too unstable and is at risk of sliding again.

"I know [the missing are] residents of what we call the Collbran-Mesa area," Heather Benjamin with the Mesa County Sheriff's Office said. "Those are two small towns up there on the Grand Mesa, which to us would typically indicate that they're familiar with the terrain. They're probably very outdoorsy, probably very prepared for the severe weather and being stuck in the mountains overnight, and those kinds of things."

Clancy Nichols' brother, Bill Nichols, says the father and son are volunteer firefighters who enjoy helping others. He says that is likely the reason the pair joined their friend Hawkins to check on the irrigation canal.

"When the Lord's given you a gift you need to give back," he said.

The first reports of the mudslide came into the Grand Junction Regional Communication Center about 6:15 p.m. Sunday. Deputies describe the area as very unstable and estimate that an entire ridge has been sliding for most of Sunday.

"This slide is unbelievably big," Mesa County Sheriff Lt. Phil Stratton said.

"Massive is an understatement," Hilkey said.

Hilkey says everyone is praying for a miracle but said no signs of the men or their truck have been found. Clancy's other son Matt was with rescue workers Monday.

Hilkey has consulted with the sheriff who responded to March's mudslide in Washington state for advice on how to handle the search.

The area is very remote and no structures have been reported damaged so far. Interstate 70 is approximately 26 miles north of the slide and has not been impacted.

Citizens are highly discouraged from going into the area and a road block has been established at the intersection of Highway 330 and Salt Creek Road, outside the town of Collbran for safety.

The search is scheduled to resume Tuesday.

(KUSA-TV © 2014 Multimedia Holdings Corporation with The Associated Press)


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