HINSDALE COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4)– A wall of snow destroyed a home near Lake City last month, trapping the people who lived there under feet debris and snow. The Casey family says nearly a month later, they want to tell their amazing story of survival.
It was before dawn on March 12 in Hinsdale County when the family, Hinsdale County Sheriff Justin Casey and his two daughters, Sara and Kristy, were sleeping in their home. The avalanche started in the mountains above their home and came crashing down off Hinsdale County Road 30.
It was the beginning of an historic avalanche event in the area of southwest Colorado often considered a peaceful, small town mountain retreat. At least a dozen homes were urged to voluntarily evacuate along Bluff Street in Lake City and other hillsides after that slide took out the Casey home.
The avalanche destroyed the home, splintering it into pieces and burying the family under feet of household items, furniture, trees, mountain debris and packed snow.
“We are definitely feeling very fortunate and blessed that God took care of us… that we are able to walk out of there,” said Justin Casey.
Right now, the family is living at a friend’s home while they try to rebuild their lives and heal from the trauma of that day. Justin’s daughters are working to move forward and are relying on their faith.
The events of that night are still at the surface.
“Suddenly it seemed like the house exploded. I was completely enveloped in snow,” said Justin.
His daughter Kristy said she could feel the home moving as it crumpled under the weight and force of the snow.
“I was sleeping and I heard a ‘Bang!’ I jumped out of bed and I felt the house, like it was falling. I was knocked unconscious. Later I remember waking up in the snow I was just praying… trying to get out,” said Kristy.
When the snow stopped moving, Justin was outside. he says it was silent and that’s when he immediately went to work.
He ran for a radio in his truck to call for help, grabbed some warm clothes from his search and rescue ‘go bag’ and then back to the pile of debris where his house used to stand.
“I was outside. I looked at the house… the house was completely gone,” Justin said. “They were both buried in the snow, under rubble.”
As Justin frantically searched the slide path, his daughters were both buried three feet underneath the wreckage of the home, packed snow and debris.
“I heard dad walking over me. I did not hear him yelling,” Kristy said.
Local first responders reached the site and helped Justin dig out his daughters from the snow which was packed so tight it was like concrete.
Miraculously, both Kristy and Sara were found and rescued. They suffered some injuries in the avalanche but are both expected to make full recoveries. Justin still walks with a limp from being thrown around in the avalanche as he tried to stay above the slide.
The family dog did not survive the event, but incredibly, a pet ferret was found in the days following and reunited with the girls.
Law enforcement agencies across the state have reached out to help the Casey family. A GoFundMe page has raised tens of thousands of dollars to support the family as they try to rebuild their home. A Front Range man donated a new car to the family after their vehicles were destroyed in the avalanche.
“This community is been incredible, supporting us, reaching out,” said Justin.
He is trying to decide whether to rebuild in the same area.
“You really learn that when you’re told your whole house is lost, it’s kind of a, ‘Well what do you really care about? What do you want to replace? What do you want to do next time,?’” Sara said.
The family is grateful to have survived the avalanche with only minor injuries. And despite all their physical possessions being destroyed, they are truly grateful for what they have as they prepare for their next steps.