Massive Mudslide in Colorado

Three missing as search continues

May 27, 2014
Outside Magazine

In March a mudslide in Washington killed 41 people. The mudslide in Mesa County, Colorado is said to dwarf the Washington slide in size.    U.S. Department of Agriculture/Flickr

Residents near Mesa County, Colorado heard "a noise that sounded like a freight train," signaling a massive mudslide Sunday morning, according to officials at the Mesa County Sheriff's Office. Though the slide occurred in a remote part of the state, rescue workers and geologists continue to search for three men who went missing in the event.

The mudslide was two miles wide, four miles long, and about 250 feet deep in some places, according to Mesa County officials. "It's an understatement to say it's massive," Mesa County Sheriff Stan Hilkey told reporters. A week of rain is thought to have triggered the slide, as a mountainside became so saturated that it collapsed into the valley below.

It swept downward with such force that it slid over a "significant" hill and back down, Hilkey said. This was a fairly remote area with few people—partly on U.S. Forest Service land and partly on private ground. The only people believed to have been in the area were three well-known locals: Clancy Nichols, 51, his son Danny Nichols, 24, and Wes Hawkins, 46. The Hawkins family owns much of the private land that the mudslide affected, and the Nichols family lives on ranches in the area. Both families are well established in the Plateau Valley area of Mesa County and related by generations of marriage between extended family.

The three men had apparently been checking on irrigation water that had been cut off in a smaller mudslide. They were still there when the second, bigger mudslide occurred.

Hilkey said there is some hope that the men may be trapped in the remote area with no cell phone coverage. A significant search continues with the help of locals (many of whom know the men), firefighters, drones, a helicopter, a hydrologist from the National Weather Service, and a geologist from the U.S. Geological Survey.

Helicopter footage showed the extent of damage the mudslide left behind:

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