6 lost snowmobilers still alive

January 9, 2008 7:13:20 AM PST
Six snowmobilers missing in the mountains for 2½ days while a howling blizzard swirled around them were rescued Monday - hungry and cold but unhurt - after taking shelter in a cozy cabin and calling 911 on a cell phone when the storm eased up.

The group, consisting of two couples and two teenagers, broke into the cabin, where they huddled around a gas grill and dined on popcorn and chicken bouillon they found inside.

"We counted 18 blankets. We were cozy," 31-year-old Shannon Groen said after rescue crews on snowmobiles brought the group to safety. "God was looking out for us. When we knew we were safe we began to worry about the rescuers and we prayed for them."

Groen and the others were trapped by one in a series of storms that killed at least three people across the West, unloaded as much as 11 feet of snow in the Sierra Nevada range, flooded hundreds of homes in Nevada and knocked out power to a quarter-million Californians. At least three people - two skiers and a hiker - were missing in the snow-covered mountains of California and Colorado.

Groen and her husband, Jason, had gone snowmobiling with their daughter Aspen to celebrate her 14th birthday. Also along were one of Jason Groen's employees, Mike Martin; Martin's wife, Missy; and their son, Jessie, 13. All are from Farmington, N.M.

The group had set out on what was supposed to be a daylong adventure but got lost and ran out of gas on Friday night near 10,222-foot Cumbres Pass, just north of the New Mexico line.

They sought shelter in a cabin near the isolated and snowbound Osier Station, a small wooden building that serves as a summertime stop on a railroad line for sightseers.

Jason Groen, the 36-year-old owner of a car wash, said that his cell phone didn't work in the cabin, and that bad weather kept him from leaving to find a place where he could get a signal until Monday morning. Meanwhile, rescuers were hampered by the threat of avalanches, high winds and snow that at some points was coming down 8 inches an hour.

When the storm finally broke, Groen hiked up to a point with cell phone reception and alerted rescuers to their location.

Aspen said she had a fine birthday: "It was fun, but wasn't something I would want to do again."

"I never had a prayer that they would all get off the mountain alive," said Groen's mother, Beverly Downey. "By the grace of God and our friends the media, I hope and pray that no one else ever has to go through this again."

Also in southern Colorado, searchers took advantage of a break in the weather to resume looking for two skiers missing since Saturday near Colorado's Wolf Creek Pass. The search about 40 miles northwest of Conejos was slowed by the threat of avalanches.

Elsewhere in the state, two stretches of Interstate 70 - the main route to many of Colorado's major ski resorts - were closed by avalanches.

The storm death toll included a woman who died when she and her boyfriend drove onto a flooded road in Chino, Calif., and a public worker killed by a falling branch north of Sacramento, Calif. One woman was killed in Oregon by a falling tree.

In Sacramento, two bodies were found in the woods near a homeless camp, but the causes of death were not immediately known.

In the San Bernardino Mountains east of Los Angeles, rescuers on foot, snowmobiles and in a helicopter searched for a 62-year-old missing hiker, Dean Christy.

In the Four Corners region, where Utah, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico meet, a chartered bus taking skiers home to Arizona ran off a narrow, sharply curved road Sunday night near Mexican Hat, Utah, killing nine people and injuring about 20 others.

The road was wet from light rain, but investigators said the weather was not believed to be the main factor. "The main thing we're looking at is the driver failed to negotiate the turn," said Trooper Cameron Roden of the Utah Highway Patrol.

Tens of thousands of Californians were still in the dark after fierce storms downed nearly 500 miles of power lines over the weekend.

In Fernley, Nev., waters continued to recede following a weekend levee break that flooded nearly 300 homes and spread sheets of ice over yards and streets.

Mayor Todd Cutler said water that had been as deep as 8 feet was down to no more than a foot in many homes.

In the Midwest, tornadoes were reported along the Illinois-Wisconsin border.

Several buildings were destroyed in the small town of Poplar Grove, Ill., where authorities rescued motorists trapped by downed, live electrical lines and crews searched damaged structures to make sure no one was trapped.

Some people were injured, Boone County Sheriff's Lt. Perry Gay said. He did not have a number but said none of the injuries appeared to be life-threatening.

About 15 miles away in Harvard, Ill., damage to several homes and toppled freight train cars could be seen in a broadcast by WLS-TV.

To the northeast, a tornado ripped through Wisconsin's Kenosha County, damaging five homes in the town of Wheatland, said Wisconsin Emergency Management spokeswoman Lori Getter.


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