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Crews still searching for 3 people in Colorado mudslide

By The Associated Press

This article was originally published May 26, 2014 at 10:20 a.m. Updated May 26, 2014 at 3:10 p.m.

COLLBRAN, Colo. — Rescue teams were searching Monday for three men missing after a half-mile stretch of a ridge saturated with rain collapsed, sending mud sliding for 3 miles in a remote part of western Colorado.

A county road worker, his son and another man went to check on damage Sunday 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 in some places.

Hilkey said no signs of the men or their truck have been found. Their names haven't been released.

"Everyone on this mountain is praying for a miracle right now," he said.

The slide hit Sunday in a remote area near the town of Collbran, about 40 miles east of Grand Junction. The Mesa County Sheriff's Department estimated it measured 4 miles long, 2 miles wide and as 250 feet deep in many places, but it said no structures or major roads were affected.

Mesa County Sheriff's dispatcher Amanda Orr said three men, all area residents, were unaccounted for. It wasn't known if they were in the area impacted by the massive slide.

A sheriff's helicopter was surveying the slide area early Monday. Authorities erected a roadblock outside Collbran, a town of about 700 people, to keep onlookers from the slide area, situated near Salt Creek road and Vega Reservoir.

The region features large mesas and is partially surrounded by the Grand Mesa National Forest.

Rescuers raced to the scene when it was reported around 6:15 p.m. Sunday, sheriff's spokeswoman Lisa McCammon said. She said the slide area was "very unstable."

The sheriff's office said that the person who reported the slide at about 6:15 p.m. "described hearing a noise that sounded much like a freight train."

The site is in a rural part of the county and there were no reports of any structures damaged or major roads affected, McCammon said.

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

A unified incident command has been established between Plateau Valley Fire Department and the Mesa sheriff, to handle the slide and search for the people possibly caught in it.

Authorities say heavy rains that fell over the weekend contributed to the slide.

The slide occurred about two months after a massive mudslide hit the Washington state community of Oso on March 22, killing 43 people.

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