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Search Suspended For 3 Missing In Mesa County Mudslide

COLLBRAN, Colo. (AP/CBS4) - The search for three ranchers who disappeared after a huge mudslide in a remote part of western Colorado was called off Tuesday as authorities turned their attention toward monitoring for another potential slide.

Mesa County Sheriff Stan Hilkey said the slide remained too unstable to continue looking for the men.

Mudslide Collbran
An image of the mudslide (credit: CBS)

"We don't want to create any more tragedy than we already have," he said.

The three men were checking on problems with an irrigation ditch caused by an initial slide Sunday when a large chunk of a ridge broke off, sending soggy earth spilling like wet cement for 3 miles. The slide is about three-quarters of a mile across and several hundred feet deep at the center.

VIDEO: News Conference: Search For 3 Missing In Mudslide Called Off

The men were Clancy Nichols, 51, who also worked as a county road and bridge employee; his son Danny Nichols, 24; and Wes Hawkins, 46, who worked for the local water district.

A depression created by the slide has been filling up with spring runoff since Sunday's big slide, and it is unclear whether it will be able to contain all of it.

Hilkey has said the slide most likely was triggered by runoff from Grand Mesa - one of the world's largest flat-topped mountains - following two days of strong rain.

(credit: CBS)

The slide occurred in a rural area with no structures, but other residents in the vicinity could be affected by another slide. Authorities are considering putting in place an early warning system to help protect them.

Energy companies working in the area - part of Colorado's productive Piceance Basin - have suspended operations. Wells likely will be offline for an extended period, perhaps months, David Ludlam, executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil & Gas Association, said Tuesday.

Hilkey said there could be another search for the missing men once conditions stabilize. But he said that likely wouldn't be until later in the summer.

Statement From The Colorado Oil And Gas Conservation Commission

COGCC deployed two inspectors to locations near the landslide. At this point it appears no active oil and gas wells were damaged by the landslide. One operator did remove produced water and oil from a location Sunday afternoon as a precaution. The operator also shut in adjacent wells, and they will remain shut in indefinitely. COGCC continues to monitor the situation and inspect nearby locations.

- By P. Solomon Banda, AP Writer

(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.) 

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