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At Least One Injured In Latest Rock Fall At Yosemite

YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK (AP) -- At least one person was injured in a rock fall at El Capitan in Yosemite National Park Thursday afternoon, a day after a massive rock fall killed a British climber and injured a second person.

Yosemite officials confirmed that one person was injured in the Thursday rock fall that happened at about 3:30 p.m.

Photos taken by Connie Tran, a reporter with Fresno CBS affiliate CBS47 show a huge plume of dust kicked up by the latest fall.

Yosemite National Park spokesperson Scott Gediman said the rock fall happened in the same area as the fatal incident on Wednesday.

"We have a big dust cloud on the road. We're looking at road closures," explained Gediman. "From all reports, it was a significant rock fall."

Gediman said that a helicopter was flying in to evacuate the injured climber. He did not know how serious the person's injuries were or if there were additional climbers hurt Thursday afternoon.

Gediman said park rangers were on the scene evaluating the situation and trying to determine the extent of road closures required by the new rock fall.

Ken Yager, president and founder of the Yosemite Climbing Association, said he witnessed the most recent rock fall that appeared to be "substantially bigger" than the earlier one.

Driving past the base of the iconic El Capitan rock formation, Yager said he saw the dust cloud and emergency workers rushing to the scene. Images posted on social media showed a massive cloud of thick dust spreading across Yosemite Valley.

Climber Ryan Sheridan had just reached the top of El Capitan when the rock slide let loose below him Thursday. "There was so much smoke and debris," he said by cellphone from the top of El Capitan. "It filled the entire valley with smoke."

Sheridan had also reached the top of El Capitan a day earlier, when the first rock slide occurred and said this one was huge in comparison.

"It was in the same location of the previous rock fall. A larger rock fall let loose, easily three times the size," Sheridan said.

Earlier Thursday, longtime climbers of Yosemite National Park said they've never seen a rock fall like the one "the size of an apartment building" that plunged down the vertical face of El Capitan, killing a British climber and seriously injuring his British climbing partner.

"I've seen smaller avalanches and smaller falls before where you would just see a tiny dust cloud, this was covering a good portion of the rock in front of us," said John DeGrazio of YExplore Yosemite Adventures, who has led climbers in Yosemite Park for 12 years.

The victims were hiking at the bottom of the iconic El Capitan in preparation to scale it when the granite chunk fell Wednesday afternoon, said park ranger and spokesman Scott Gediman.

It was about 130 feet (40 meters) tall and 65 feet (19 meters) wide and appeared to fall from the popular "Waterfall Route" on the East Buttress of El Capitan, Gediman said. The victims were not identified because officials were notifying their relatives.

DeGrazio said he had just guided a group to the top of the Half Dome rock formation a few miles (kilometers) when they looked across to El Capitan and saw large clouds of rock dust rising into the air. At least 30 climbers were on the wall of the 7,569-foot (2,307 meter) monolith when the huge hunk of rock fell.

"It was more significant than anything I've seen before," DeGrazio said.

Climbers are aware of the risks of the sport and that granite erosion takes place on El Capitan and other peaks in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, he said. They posted pictures on social media showing billowing white dust moments after the crash.

Canadian climber Peter Zabrok described the rock that fell as "white granite the size of an apartment building," adding that it suddenly peeled off the wall with no warning.

Mountaineers from around the world travel to the park in the Sierra Nevada to scale El Capitan's sheer face. Fall is one of the peak seasons because the days are long and the weather is warm.

Ken Yager, president and founder of the Yosemite Climbing Association, the piece that broke off "cratered and sent stuff mushrooming out in all directions."

Zabrok said he saw a rescuer lowered by helicopter and "I believe he grabbed one survivor." He later saw rescuers moving someone on a litter.

"It was done at tremendous peril to the rescuers because there were three subsequent rock falls that were all nearly as big and would have killed anybody at the base," he said.

Gediman, the park spokesman, said the massive rock fall was among seven that happened in the same general area during a four-hour period on Wednesday. Rescuers found no other victims.

Officials had no immediate estimate for how much the big rock weighed but Gediman said all of the rock falls Wednesday weighed 1,300 tons (1,100 metric tons) combined.

The park records about 80 rock falls per year, though they are rarely fatal.

Climber Kevin Jorgeson said he and climbing partner Tommy Caldwell witnessed a massive rock fall in the same area while they prepared for a trek that made them the first people to free-climb the El Capitan's Dawn Wall in 2015.

First they heard a rumble. Then they saw a white cloud of dust.

"Yosemite is just a really active, wild place. It's always changing," Jorgeson said. "It doesn't make it any less tragic when someone gets in the way of that."

In 2013, a rock dislodged and severed the rope of a Montana climber scaling El Capitan.

Mason Robison, 38, fell about 230 feet (70 meters) and died. Robison's gear digging into the side of the mountain caused the rock to dislodge.

Yosemite remained open after Wednesday's rock fall, and other activities throughout the park were not affected, rangers said.

TM and © Copyright 2017 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2017 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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