Mesa County, Colo. — What do we know now and what has changed? Those are just two of the many questions being asked about the mudslide that occurred on West Salt Creek on Sunday, May 24, 2014, from previous information released to today. The Incident Command Structure has been modified to share responsibility of managing the incident between the U.S. Forest Service and the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office. This established unified structure for management, is equivalent to a Type Three Incident Management Team.
Under this formal management structure are many agencies supporting the operation. Those agencies include, but may not be limited to:
• Mesa County Government
• Mesa County Sheriff’s Office
• Plateau Valley Fire Department
• United State Forest Service
• United States Geological Survey
• State of Colorado Geologist
• National Weather Service
• Colorado Department of Public Safety
• The Office of Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper
• The City of Grand Junction/Regional Communication Center
• The Colorado National Guard – High Altitude Training Center
• The Colorado State Patrol
• The Town of Collbran/Collbran Town Marshal
The on-going work and incident objectives are life safety, trying to determine further slide potential, trying to build monitoring of ground movement and water, building early warning plans and communication plans (i.e. community meeting), and continuing to explore technology use to locate victims in the debris.
Two U.S.G.S. satellites have been tasked to provide daily imagery on the slide area, for comparison to the images provided the day before. The MCSO unmanned vehicle system (UAV) was flown on Monday, May 26, and images gathered from that flight have been compiled and shared publicly. The flight mapped the bottom portion of the slide only. At this time, flights with Colorado State Patrol air support were done on May 27 and 28, to allow geologists and engineers to personally view the site. More UAV flights are planned pending a safe launch site near the top of the slide can be identified and accessed.
Incident Command is trying to determine how and where to place motioning on and near the slide area; Assessing remote camera locations to monitor the slide in real time; GPS equipment placed on various locations throughout the slide to monitor movement of the slide further; Seismology equipment to capture time, strength and other data about movement of the mudslide area and top portion of the ridge. Experts are trying to create a model of an assessment of what a future slide would look like in Salt Creek, to include what effect another slide would have on the population downstream.
Today, a Kiowa and Black Hawk helicopters from the High Altitude Army National Guard Aviation Training Site are scheduled to fly from the Grand Junction Regional Airport to the Salt Creek mudslide with geologists, engineers and others on board to capture visuals of the current mudslide conditions. They will also be visually monitoring the slide, which is the primary method of monitoring we are currently able to do.
With regard to building a warning a system, it will be done with a focus on three tiers of notification areas. Those areas are:
1. Salt Creek Road residents from Highway 330 to the toe of the mudslide
2. From Salt Creek Road to the town of Collbran
3. Below the town of Collbran
The possibility of another slide event in the Salt Creek drainage remains a concern, based on all the information and data gathered thus far. In addition, the instability and current water saturation levels, along with the water pooling in the area behind the slide near its origin, are indicators that a further or additional slide and earth movement could happen any time. The residents along Salt Creek Road have received a letter outlining various means for citizens to gather information, as well as emergency means to notify residents should a need arise. Those notification efforts continue to expand and are fluid.
With regard to the town of Collbran and residents not on Salt Creek Road, it is possible they could experience a water event, which is fairly common for them during annual peak water runoff season. A slide event on Salt Creek Road could push additional water into Plateau creek, causing the water to rise in an already full creek. Further explanation about this will be discussed at the town hall meeting in Collbran, scheduled for 6:30 p.m., tonight in the auditorium.
Finally, as a community resource, a hotline has been established for non-emergency inquiries from the residents in the greater Collbran area. That community hotline is: (970) 462-7156. When it isn’t answered by a live person, there will be a summary update on the message, and an opportunity for citizens to leave a voice message and get a return call.