Volunteers used Saturday to finish cleaning up the debris and snow left by the avalanche that slid down Mount Jumbo and into the home of Fred Allendorf and his wife Michel Colville on the afternoon of Feb. 28.
In the morning, volunteers found boxes filled with photo albums when an excavator moved a slab of the foundation and uncovered a small pocket of space under what had once been the stairs.
Volunteer Mike Dunn put the photo albums with everything else found that day in the back of a pickup truck, to be taken to a storage unit where it will be sorted.
“We’re probably reaching the end of what is recoverable,” Dunn said.
Colville and Allendorf were buried in the avalanche, along with 8-year-old Phoenix Scoles-Coburn. The boy was recovered by emergency responders after almost an hour of searching. Allendorf was found after two hours of being buried, and was released from St. Patrick Hospital Saturday after recovering from multiple broken bones and other injuries. Colville was found after three hours and taken to St. Patrick, but died two days after the avalanche from her injuries.
Most of the volunteers on Saturday worked on clearing the area where the avalanche had eventually ended, around the houses across the street from where Allendorf and Colville had lived. They used shovels to pile snow, wood, broken pieces of concrete and insulation into a heap in the back yard of one of the houses, where a heavy loader used its bucket to fill trucks hauling the debris away.
“The heavy machinery really made things go from zero to 60 in a snap,” Dunn said.
Tarn Ream, a neighbor who helped organize volunteers in the weeks after the avalanche, said when the heavy machinery came in to help out last week, one of the first things they did was tear apart the upper floor of Allendorf’s house. The upstairs had remained largely intact and had been balancing precariously on its side in one of the neighbor’s yards.
Ream said they were worried that the snow had been the main thing holding it up, and that as the snow had melted, the upper floor had begun to shift slightly.
Other volunteers walked around the area carrying buckets, bending down every few steps to pick up a piece of glass or a nail left behind from the melted snow.
The corner at Holly and Harrison streets where the avalanche came down had gone from being buried under more than 10 feet of packed snow to just a thin layer of mud.
A Jeep Grand Cherokee belonging to one of Colville and her husband’s neighbors had its front and rear windshields blown out by the avalanche. Snow was still packed from the floor up over the steering wheel.
Volunteers from the neighborhood were joined by members of church groups, several University of Montana fraternities and members of the Montana Conservation Corp.
Ten members of UM’s Sigma Phi Epsilon were among the workers who turned out to help on Saturday.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been this close to seeing what a real natural disaster is like,” said Chance Carter.
The fraternity members said they knew the cleanup was nearly wrapped up and came out to help with the last-minute effort.
“Everything here has sentimental value to someone, we’re trying to save what we can,” said Spencer Ruchti.
Ream said the volunteers’ goal is to have the snow and debris cleared by the end of the day, so next week the city can come in with a sweeper and other machinery to clean and clear the road.