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The Ahwanhee Hotel in Yosemite National Park
 Evacuated As Falling Rocks Endanger Hotel

By Danielle Gaines, Merced Sun-Star, Calif.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

August 27, 2009 - --The Ahwanhee Hotel in Yosemite National Park was evacuated around noon Wednesday after falling rocks sent debris into the parking lot.

The rockslide was reported around 1 p.m. Several smaller rock falls were reported earlier that morning.

Between 70 and 80 guests were in the hotel at the time of the slide, said Scott Gediman, chief media officer for the park.

Park officials didn't release an exact number of guests booked into the hotel, but said the 125-room resort was full.

The falling rocks, some as large as a microwave oven, were reported in the area of Royal Arches, a granite formation on the north side of Yosemite Valley.

Dust clouds from the slide obscured the view of Half Dome from some areas in the valley.

"We heard two giant explosions then we went outside and saw these huge, giant dust clouds," said Sandy Jaeger, an Oakland native. "At first I thought it was an earthquake."

Jaeger was at the hotel's dining room having lunch with seven friends. The group is staying at a rented home on Pine Mountain Lake until Saturday and just planned to visit Yosemite for the day.

Hotel guests were initially relocated to Ahwanhee Meadow near the hotel, Gediman said.

Jaeger said hotel staff members provided chairs, water and food at the meadow.

Around 3 p.m., all "refugees," as they took to calling themselves, were moved to Curry Village by shuttle bus.

"People are in different moods. Some are very laid back, others are becoming impatient," Jaeger said around sunset. "I'm regarding it as an adventure. There isn't anything I can do about it anyhow."

A park geologist was sent to the area Wednesday afternoon to decide whether there's a risk of a more substantial rockslide, Gediman said.

There were no injuries reported, but some of the falling rocks damaged three cars in the hotel's parking lot, park employee Erik Skindrud said.

"The vast majority of the material fell to an underdeveloped area," Skindrud said.

Park officials could not issue an estimate on the amount of debris.

Ahwanhee visitors were not allowed to stay in the hotel Wednesday night but one member of each family was allowed in to retrieve belongings. Alternative housing was found for the visitors.

Also, a controlled burn that jumped its boundaries forced authorities to close Highway 120 inside the park Wednesday. It was scheduled to reopen this morning.

Reporter Danielle Gaines can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or dgaines@mercedsun-star.com.

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To see more of the Merced Sun-Star or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.mercedsunstar.com.

Copyright (c) 2009, Merced Sun-Star, Calif.

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