An avalanche struck a Missoula, Montana neighborhood at approximately 4 p.m. on Friday, demolishing a home and burying three people in the snow and rubble. An 8-year-old boy and an elderly couple were rescued. The man and woman resided in the house, which is located in the northeastern part of Missoula at the base of Mount Jumbo. Police are reporting that the child did not live with the couple, but had been in the yard of a nearby house playing.
The first to arrive at the scene after the avalanche were no less than 50 neighbors, who swarmed to the scene carrying shovels they had brought from home and began to dig through the snow and the remains of the home in a frantic search for survivors. After approximately 30 minutes, firefighters arrived and took over the search using avalanche probes, which are long poles used specifically to find avalanche victims in deep snow. They were able to locate the boy, who had been trapped between a fence and the home, and free him from the snow at approximately 5:15 p.m. The man, who had been trapped beneath the chimney of his house, was pulled from the snow about 1 3/4 hours later. After still another hour, the man’s wife was recovered alive.
The mother of the boy could be heard at the scene of the Missoula home, which was buried by an avalanche, saying, “My son, my son,” while watching the residents searching frantically through the snow. After becoming hysterical, she was led away by paramedics before all three victims had been found alive and pulled from the snow.
Utility workers were also summoned due to reports of a strong smell of natural gas after the avalanche.
A neighbor of the man and woman, Cheryl McMillan, spoke to the Missoulian and reported that she had heard a loud roar, but did not know immediately what it was. Looking a second time, she saw that the affected house was “kind of no longer there, at least the top floor.” She further stated that in her 31 years in the neighborhood, this is the first avalanche she has seen. A second house was also damaged by the avalanche.
Police Sgt. Travis Welsh said that all three survivors had been taken immediately to St. Patrick Hospital, where the man is said to be alert and speaking. The conditions of the three are not known, but their identities have been released. The couple has been identified as a retired University of Montana professor, Fred Allendor, and his wife. The 8-year-old boy is the son of an Allendorf neighbor.
In the wake of the good news that all three victims of the avalanche had been found alive, Welsh also stated that an avalanche team has been dispatched to the Rattlesnake Valley, which lies north of Missoula and from where the avalanche originated, in order to determine if another slide that could potentially bury other homes is imminent. A blizzard warning, which predicts possibly sustained wind speeds of 20 – 30 mph with wind gusts up to 40 mph, has been issued for the area until Saturday morning.
By Jennifer Pfalz