An avalanche closed a popular ski destination in California on Saturday after eight people were partially buried in snow and rescue crews scoured the area for hours to find others who might be trapped.
It all started Saturday morning when employees of the Mammoth Mountain Ski Patrol were working to dismantle snowy overhangs that could start an avalanche on the slopes, which are located in the Sierra National Forest.
Snow released about 10:15 a.m. and started pouring down the mountain, said Lauren Burke, a spokeswoman for Mammoth Mountain.
It traveled down an area that was closed to those skiing or snowboarding, but then moved through a populated area on the mountain, Burke said.
Two guests were partially buried in the snow but were able to free themselves. Burke said they were uninjured.
Another six, all employees, were also hit by the cascade toward the bottom of a ski lift. They were also able to free themselves but suffered minor injuries.
Rescue crews were called. More than 200 people, including guests, scoured the area for more than six hours using transponders and search dogs.
The resort said they are not aware of any more missing people.
The avalanche is just the latest danger to the hit the state, which is being pummeled by a winter storm. The Fresno Bee reported that a snowboarder died Friday in a freak accident at China Peak Mountain Resort. Blake Smith, 36, fell headfirst into a 5-foot embankment of fresh snow and suffocated when he couldn’t free himself.
Also Friday, an avalanche caught five people at the Squaw Valley Ski Resort, near Lake Tahoe and the Nevada state line. Hours before the avalanche, the body of a snowboarder was recovered at the same resort. He had gone missing during a blizzard on Thursday, according to the Associated Press.
The chance of avalanches in the Mammoth Mountain area on Saturday was "high," according to forecasters at the Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center.
Those on the slopes Saturday said they saw the top of Mammoth Mountain dismantle and come cascading down, toppling trees and taking out fences and snowmobiles.
"I was waiting to board a ski lift when it suddenly stopped working," Barbara Maynard told the Los Angeles Times. "Suddenly, it was pandemonium everywhere you looked. Ambulances, police vehicles and fire engines were rolling into the area. Simultaneously, Mammoth Mountain staffers and ski patrols were roaring up the slopes on snowmobiles."
A camera showing a live-stream on the mountain showed signs on the top of the peaks buried under feet of snow. Other photos from those at the mountain showed ambulances and authorities flooding the scene.
The resort was closed for the rest of the day but is expected to reopen Sunday.
A full investigation will be done, Burke said.
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