Tue October 1, 2013
Colorado Rockslide Kills Five Hikers, Injures One Other
Originally published on Tue October 1, 2013 4:35 pm
Rescuers are beginning to search through a wreckage of boulders for the body of five hikers who were killed in a rockslide in Colorado.
The rockslide yesterday morning crashed down on a popular trail that offers views of Agnes Vaille falls and the Chalk Creek Canyon.
It killed five hikers and injured one, who was airlifted to a Denver hospital, according to the Associated Press.
Rescuers were unable to begin their search on Monday because conditions were still considered too unstable.
MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI, HOST:
From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Meghna Chakrabarti, in for Jeremy Hobson. It's HERE AND NOW.
Trails remain closed after yesterday's massive rockslide at Agnes Vaille near Nathrop, Colorado. Six hikers were on the trail at the time. There are five confirmed deaths. One 13-year-old girl was pulled alive from the rubble. Officials say that heavy rains may have contributed to the rockslide. It's yet another tragedy in a state that's been hit hard by powerful weather in the past several weeks.
Jason Blevins is a reporter for The Denver Post and he joins us from Buena Vista, Colorado. And Jason, I understand you've been out on this trail. Tell us a little bit about it.
JASON BLEVINS: Agnes Vaille is a very short hike. It's built as sort of a family-friendly, very basic hike in Chafee County. And it's a really simple, short stroll, not very long. The last bit is sort of a scramble on some loose rock across (unintelligible) field and a beautiful waterfall that tumbles down from the southern plank of Mount Princeton. It's a really beautiful, easy hike, lots of families, lots of kids, pretty popular.
CHAKRABARTI: So what do we know about the hikers who were caught in that rockslide?
BLEVINS: The hikers have not been identified. The Chafee County coroner did go up to the scene yesterday - last night - and confirmed that there are five dead. He did see the bodies. But the survivor is a 13-year-old girl, Gracie Johnson, and authorities have said she was hiking with her family. Her family is Dwayne and Dawna Johnson from Buena Vista here.
Dawna is a cross-country coach, Dwayne is a football coach, members of a local church, real pivotal, you know, stalwart members of this community here. And there's a lot of sadness at the church today and around the schools (unintelligible) that they were caught in this rockslide.
CHAKRABARTI: Now, is there any sense as to how it happened? I mean minor rockslides aren't terribly unusual. But this one seemed really large.
BLEVINS: It was big. We've had a lot of rain out here in Colorado, a good monsoon season, typical monsoon season in the mountains where, you know, you get a lot of afternoon rain. And then as we move deeper in the fall, you get these freeze-thaw cycles to where the moisture in the ground freezes and then thaws during the day and then it freezes.
And that tends to loosen up rocks and it can even separate pretty large rocks from a mountainside. And engineers have said - have told police that they, you know, estimate some of these rocks were 100-ton rocks, you know, bigger than the size of a car.
CHAKRABARTI: Wow. Now you mentioned rain. Of course Colorado has had so much rain recently. I mean up further north, in the Boulder area, for example, there has been all that flooding. Is that related to the amounts of rain you've been seeing further south where you are?
BLEVINS: No, not at all. These, you know, that was some isolated thunderstorms along the Front Range, mostly in the South Platte drainage. This is further West into the - deeper into the Rocky Mountains. And those rainstorms did not happen here, you know, in the mountains as much as they did on the Front Range. Still, they - this has been a wet season, a typically wet season.
CHAKRABARTI: Now, the outdoors is such an integral part of life in Colorado. Has this rockslide and the deaths that have occurred, has it made people sort of be more concerned about the conditions on other trails?
BLEVINS: You know, there is a warning right now, especially as we enter this freeze-thaw cycle. This is part of an inherent risk of playing outside in the Rocky Mountains and in Colorado, part of the appeal too. There's a sense of danger in the natural beauty of the world, and it's something that you always should be aware of.
You know, it's hard to say if it's going to impact hiking trends or anything, but you know, in Colorado we do see accidents like this, whether it's a rockslide or a snow avalanche. There's inherent risk that come with playing outside in the Rocky Mountains.
CHAKRABARTI: Well, Jason Blevins is a reporter for The Denver Post. Jason, thank you.
BLEVINS: Thank you. Appreciate it.
CHAKRABARTI: Well, coming up, Robin's got a great story about six women battling cancer and the comfort and support they find in a shared thrift shop coat. Back in a moment. HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.