- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 15, 2005

PARK CITY, Utah (AP) — Rescue workers spent all day yesterday digging through a massive snow pile but found no traces of five persons feared dead in an avalanche 300 yards wide and 500 yards long that cascaded down a Utah mountainside on Friday.

Exactly how many skiers were buried in the snow slide remained unclear late yesterday as the search was winding down.

In a separate disaster in California, thousands of Corona residents in the path of a leaky dam were urged to stay away from their homes until tomorrow.

In Utah, six crews and rescue dogs poked the snow, up to 30 feet deep in some areas outside the boundary of the Canyons resort on federal land in the Wasatch-Cache National Forest.

Summit County Sheriff Dave Edmunds said officials were still trying to match eyewitness accounts to a list of skiers who were thought to be in the area when the avalanche happened.

Sheriff’s Capt. Alan Siddoway said officials knew of five persons who were missing when the search resumed yesterday morning.

As of late yesterday, searchers had confirmed the identity of only one victim, a Montana man in his 20s whose name was not released.

The area where the avalanche occurred was marked with a skull and crossbones to discourage thrill-seekers. Skier Jess Fleig, a 35-year-old disc jockey, said he frequents the backcountry but stayed away from that area Friday.

“What immediately came to mind is that’s trouble waiting to happen,” Mr. Fleig said.

In California, seepage through the Prado Dam had stopped, but most residents of Corona remained out of their homes in a voluntary, precautionary evacuation.

Although a mandatory evacuation was canceled, people were urged to remain away from homes and a mobile home park until tomorrow afternoon while the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers releases millions of gallons of water to relieve pressure on the 64-year-old dam.

Residents of the area 50 miles southeast of Los Angeles appeared to be heeding the warning.

“It seemed like handfuls were coming in and going out, but it seemed like the vast majority were staying out,” Corona Mayor Darrell Talbert said.

The dam problems followed a series of storms that turned Southern California into one big flood zone. The torrential rain triggered a mudslide in the tiny town of La Conchita that killed 10 persons and damaged several homes. In all, 28 deaths around the state were linked to the storms.

Police evacuated about 2,300 people from Corona on Friday morning after a dramatic increase in the amount of water seeping through the face of a temporary earthen dam at a construction site next to the main dam.

At its height, however, the seepage was only 10 to 20 gallons a minute, said Fred Egeler, a corps spokesman.

“There was never a threat to the dam. It was a minor seepage,” he said. It had “virtually stopped” yesterday.

“Our contractor worked all night placing dirt on the downside face of the dam,” he said. The dirt was reinforced with a fine mesh material.

The corps was releasing 10,000 cubic feet of water every second into the Santa Ana River, or about the amount that would fill a backyard swimming pool. By yesterday morning, the water level in the 1,000-acre reservoir had dropped more than six feet, and Mr. Egeler said the release would continue tomorrow.

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