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Continued: St. Paul park mudslide turns school trip into deadly nightmare

Two firefighters were injured in the rescue operation.

Excavations proceeded cautiously through the afternoon for fear that “more of the hill would collapse,” according to scanner traffic. Eventually, rescuers used a fire hose to knock away loose dirt in hopes of uncovering the missing student.

“This is tough on the rescuers,” Zaccard said. “It’s children, young children here to have a good time.”

Late in the afternoon, a school bus with the uninjured students and staff arrived back in St. Louis Park, where children where reunited with their parents inside the school.

About 10 minutes later, they emerged crying and hugging.

Nine-year-old Connor Coleman was with his classmates in the park when he heard a loud boom, said his mother, Michelle Coleman. “He said it sounded like a cannon,” she said. “When he looked over, he saw a tree was falling down the cliff … and he could hear his classmates in the lower area yelling and screaming.”

“My son is very sad to know that two classmates have more than [likely not] survived this horrible accident,” Coleman said. “That’s a lot for a 9-year-old to go through.”

The field trip Wednesday involved two fourth-grade classes, 49 students total, said Sara Thompson, St. Louis Park School District spokeswoman. Concerns about whether conditions on the bluffs were too dangerous for the children “is the least of [the] concerns,” said Andraya Thompson, president of the Hobart PTAO.

“The families are concerned about the situation as it develops and how they can be supportive,” she said.

Michelle Coleman said: “I trust wholeheartedly Peter Hobart Elementary School and the teachers there. We know they wouldn’t knowingly put our children in danger.”

Classes will resume at the school Thursday with counselors on hand for students and staff.

Parks and Recreation spokesman Brad Meyer said the St. Louis Park school had a permit to dig for fossils.

“It’s a popular elementary school group destination,” he said.

The permit website warns applicants that the area can be hazardous, and requires them to accept liability for injury. Meyer said he wasn’t aware of any major problems at the park in recent years.

“As for weather closures for our parks, it’s few and far between,” he said. “In this case, there’s no preparation.”

Lifelong West Side resident Angeleah Carrion said she regularly walks the trails at Lilydale, but avoids it in wet weather because of the narrow, dirt trails and steep cliffs.

“I wouldn’t even go near it on a day like today,” said Carrion.

A number of neighbors shared Carrion’s concerns.

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