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Visitors’ close call is costly

Susan Wood

A San Jose man feels lucky to be alive but unlucky he’s stranded in South Lake Tahoe, after surviving one of three avalanches that occurred between 11:20 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. at Emerald Bay Wednesday.

Veasna Keo, 20, was traveling southbound on State Route 89 at about noon, when the slope gave way, crushing his front windshield and part of his rental car’s roof. A side window was also shattered in the slide, one in a series that happened 100 yards from one another between the Eagle Falls and Vikingsholm trailheads.

Keo was driving a four-door 2000 Dodge Stratus sedan, which he and his passengers scrambled out of as the car edged toward the cliff. The car continued over the embankment.

“(The slide) pushed us to the edge. Thank God we didn’t fall over the cliff into Lake Tahoe,” said Keo, a computer technology graduate from Heald College.

He and three friends were headed to Heavenly Ski Resort with their snowboards from North Shore for their last hurrah on the slopes before returning to the Bay Area.

The avalanche “happened so fast,” Keo said. So he pressed his brakes gently, leaving time to escape for the four young men ages 18 to 21. Keo’s passengers included Mark Nguyen, Vincent DeVera and Kary Suy.

The men recovered most of their bags except the most valuable — the one with their pooled money.

Apparently, the bag with a video camera and the men’s money was dropped outside the car in the confusion. It’s assumed to have plunged over the embankment.

The California Highway Patrol closed the road that afternoon. It was reopened later, when the danger passed — despite the fact that some people were climbing on the slide area, California Department of Transportation Lead Worker Shelley Piscitelli said. Caltrans has pledged to keep an eye on the slide-prone area.

Elizabeth Carter of the Sierra Avalanche Center based in Tahoe City said she wasn’t surprised by the slides reported Wednesday, as the mix of heavy and light snowfall have created unstable conditions in certain areas.

With 4 inches to a foot of fresh snow that fell overnight Tuesday, the avalanche center warned of a “considerable” hazard on pitches greater than 30 degrees. The hazard steps up to a “high” rating in pockets on steeper chutes.

Ski areas reported isolated releases with explosives at higher elevations, the U.S. Forest Service indicated Wednesday.


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