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Yosemite rock slide hurts 3, destroys cabins

Slab from the face of Glacier Point plunges, sending boulders and granite shrapnel toward Curry Village.

October 09, 2008|Eric Bailey | Times Staff Writer
  • Cabins in Curry Village in Yosemite National Park show damage following a rock slide today.
Cabins in Curry Village in Yosemite National Park show damage following… (Tom Trujillo / Associated…)

SACRAMENTO — A major rock slide Wednesday at Yosemite National Park injured three visitors, destroyed more than half a dozen cabins and prompted park officials to evacuate popular Curry Village as a precaution.

The slide let loose about 7 a.m. more than halfway up the 3,200-foot face of Glacier Point, which looms above the tent cabins and concession services on the valley floor.

An 1,800-cubic-yard slab of rock cartwheeled down the cliff, shattered and sent boulders and fist-size granite shrapnel toward the edge of Curry Village and its more than 500 tent cabins, regular cabins and hotel rooms.

Park Ranger Erik Skindrud said about 1,000 visitors had to be evacuated in the slide's aftermath, many of them visiting schoolchildren and their chaperons.

One boy suffered a head laceration and had to get stitches at the valley's medical clinic. Two other people received treatment after fleeing the rockfall. A young child was treated for an asthma attack, and an adult suffered cuts when she fell, Skindrud said.

Five tent cabins and two cabins with solid sides were destroyed, he said.

The rockfall was the second in two days at Glacier Point. Tuesday afternoon, a smaller slide sent boulders cascading toward Curry Village, destroying one tent cabin.

But Wednesday's slide spread more fear, damage and debris. The amount of rock released was about equal to a dozen municipal garbage trucks parked side by side.

Among the evacuees were 80 elementary school students and adult chaperons from Montessori Center School in Goleta. Nelda Nutter, head of the school, said the students were milling about or heading to breakfast when the slide occurred.

A boy from the school was among the injured, she said, and at least one tent cabin that had been occupied by the group was damaged by the slide.

"The reaction afterward ranged from tears to some boys who said, 'That was cool!' " she said. "I'm just thrilled that nobody was seriously injured."

Park officials used a helicopter to get a closer look at the rock face Tuesday afternoon and again Wednesday morning, after the bigger slide. No findings have been announced, though park geologists are theorizing that recent rains may have lubricated the rock face just enough to trigger the rockfall.

Concern about the potential for more slides was great enough to prompt park officials to evacuate visitors from Curry Village and shut down its services. Shortly before nightfall, authorities reopened about half the Curry Village cabins for visitors to return to, but were delaying any resumption of activity in facilities nearer the slide as a precaution.

Glacier Point has been among the most active rockfall zones in the park for more than a decade. In 1996, a massive slide killed a park visitor and flattened more than 500 trees. A few years later, a big slide killed Peter Terbush, a young climber who saved a friend's life by holding onto his climbing rope and refusing to flee in the face of boulders cascading down the cliff face.

"Rock slides and rockfalls are part of the natural history of Yosemite, one of the processes that created the valley," Skindrud said.

"It's nothing out of the ordinary; it's something we have to live with," he said. "Today's incident was a little more dangerous to human life than other previous incidents."

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eric.bailey@latimes.com

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