Montana

Mar 3, 2014 3:08 PM by MTN News

Missoula avalanche victim dies, voluntary evacuations requested

MISSOULA - Authorities said Monday that Michel Jo Colville, a woman who was hurt in Friday afternoon's avalanche in the Lower Rattlesnake, has died.

Missoula Police Sgt. Travis Welsh confirmed that Colville, who was trapped for hours after the snow slide destroyed her home - succumbed to her injuries.

The avalanche came off Mount Jumbo and roared into the area of Harrison and Holly streets area at around 4:15 p.m. Friday, trapping Colville and her husband, Fred Allendorf.

An 8-year-old boy was also buried by the avalanche. The boy and Allendorf survived.

Welsh said that Missoula police are confirming that snow enthusiasts have been interviewed regarding the cause of the avalanche.

No charges have been filed. Police said they will consult with the prosecuting attorney's office regarding the results of the investigation and any potential criminal charges.

Meanwhile, local officials are asking volunteers and some residents to leave the area near Friday afternoon's fatal avalanche in the Lower Rattlesnake due to avalanche risk.

Missoula Fire Chief Jason Deihl said the avalanche slope has completely reloaded and there is a high risk of it breaking loose again.

Because of that danger, they have asked volunteers working to save the families items to clear out for at least 72 hours until the mountain is stable.

Deihl said law enforcement is going to be contacting people all up and down the side of the road from Holly Street to Richard Street to remind them of the risk and suggest they find somewhere else to stay for a few days.

Deihl said the city is also going to reinforce its closures of Sentinel and Jumbo at the trail heads, and make additional warning signs.

He said all of Monday's decisions were made in a meeting that morning between avalanche specialists, Mayor John Engen and various other departments.

Diehl also said on Monday that the volunteers who have helped out in the Rattlesnake have been amazing, adding that "it makes you proud to be a Missoulian."

City of Missoula spokeswoman Ginny Merriam said Missoula Fire Department staff worked Monday morning to tape off the site of avalanche damage on Holly Street in the Lower Rattlesnake. City police officers are also visiting homes along Van Buren Street to talk with residents about continuing avalanche danger.

Steve Karkanen of the West Central Montana Avalanche Center posted Monday morning in a special update that a weak snowpack structure is still present on Mount Jumbo and that the avalanche danger is "considerable."

Police officers visited homes east of Van Buren and Rattlesnake Drive from Elm Street to Herbert and on Harrison Street north of Elm Street to let residents know of heightened avalanche danger for at least the next 48 hours. The expected freezing rain or more snow will increase the danger.

There is no evacuation order, and voluntary evacuees can find shelter provided by the Red Cross at the First Baptist Church at Woody and West Pine streets.

The coordinator of the volunteer effort to recover residents' belongings in the avalanche area has called off the effort because of danger to the volunteers and neighboring residences.

City officials said that It is vitally important for the public to stay off all parts of Mount Jumbo, including all trails and foothills slopes and areas not owned by the city.

City conservation lands staff members are putting up new signs along Van Buren Street and Rattlesnake Drive to emphasize that the mountain is closed to all uses, as is Mount Sentinel.

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