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Yosemite Rock Slide Kills Man

July 12, 1996

YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, Calif. (AP) _ A massive granite slab broke loose from a cliff with what sounded like a thunderclap, causing a blast of wind that flattened trees and crushed a man to death at an ice cream stand.

The rock slide Wednesday threw up a dust cloud hundreds of feet high, blotting out the sun.

``It was the most terrifying thing I have ever seen in my life,″ said John Lydon of Torrance. It ``looked like a tornado.″

``You could see it coming toward you.″

Emiliano Morales, 20, of Montebello, was crushed beneath a tree and killed, the National Park Service said. He was struck at an ice cream stand which also was crushed.

Crews wearing surgical masks to avoid inhaling the dust used dogs and fiber optic equipment to search the rubble and make sure no one else was trapped.

Up to 11 people were reported injured.

The massive rock, 300 to 400 feet wide, broke loose from a ledge on Glacier Point, falling more than 2,000 feet into Yosemite Valley before turning to powder on impact. An inch of granite dust coated a 50-acre area, the park service said.

``The dust cloud was so big that it was like driving through the worst fog you could imagine,″ Assistant Chief Ranger Don Coelho said.

It sounded ``kind of like thunder,″ Mike Gonzalez of Whittier said. ``It got louder, and it wouldn’t stop.″ As Gonzalez hustled his family into their motor home, the blue sky turned black, ``as dark as you can imagine.″

Lydon took his family to a motel outside the park that night but returned in the morning to pack their gear and leave, even though they had planned to stay until Saturday.

``I’m sure I’ll come back someday, but it’s not going to be next week,″ Lydon said. ``I didn’t know if it was the end of my life.″

All of Yosemite remained open except the slide area at the start of the John Muir Trail, which winds to the top of 7,214-foot elevation Glacier Point.

Chunks have flaked off Yosemite’s massive granite cliffs often over the centuries in a process called exfoliation.

Park historian Jim Snyder said Yosemite hadn’t had any deaths from rock slides since 1980, when three people died at Yosemite Falls.

Debris from rocks and 500 toppled trees covered an area 300 yards long and 100 yards wide, said Hunter Sharp, the rescue team’s deputy commander.

The two most seriously injured tourists, both from Whittier, were struck by a falling tree as they hiked with a group of friends.

Hisano Hamada, 18, was in critical condition with a broken arm, leg and neck injuries. Kelly Booth, 17, was in fair condition with cuts on her face, arms and body.

Booth’s parents said their daughter had no memory of the incident.

``Darkness, she remembers darkness,″ said her father, Chris Booth. ``She doesn’t remember being dug out.″

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