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1 boy dead, another missing in Yosemite; hantavirus kills another
FRESNO, Calif. — One boy died and another was missing after they were swept away along a popular but treacherous boulder-strewn stretch of the Merced River, Yosemite National Park officials said Thursday.
The two victims were part of a family visiting from Southern California that was hiking near the Vernal Fall Footbridge. Group members were cooling off in the river Wednesday when a current carried the boys away.
A 10-year-old boy was pronounced dead at about 3 p.m. Wednesday. Park visitors pulled him from the river about 150 yards downstream, but efforts to resuscitate him failed.
Authorities were still searching for a 6-year-old boy who is missing and presumed dead.
The names of the boys were not immediately released.
The bridge is a vantage point on the Mist Trail where Vernal Fall first comes into view. The location was the site of tragedy last summer when three Central California friends cooling off in a pool above the fall were swept to their deaths.
Two of their bodies were discovered months later lodged under boulders near the site where the 10-year-old was found.
The Merced River runs through the heart of Yosemite Valley, and the Mist Trail to the fall is one of the most popular and sometimes perilous hikes in the park. The river falls 317 feet straight down to a narrow gorge filled with boulders the size of cars then descends another 400 feet by the time it reaches the bridge. Even when the rest of the river is moving slowly, the drop in elevation and narrow channel cause the water to move swiftly.
The boys were part of group of about 15 extended family members who made the short hike to the bridge, park spokesman Scott Gediman said. While signs at the trailhead warn that the river can be dangerous, people often are drawn to the water's edge.
"We've got a low water year this year, and around the banks it's only 8 to 10 inches deep, but once you get our further we have a swift current and it gets deeper," Gediman said. "They both got swept away by the current."
The Mist Trail remained open during search and rescue operations but portions might be closed depending upon developments.
A 57-year-old man drowned two weeks ago in the Merced River when he was pinned under a rock, and another person died in June on the South Fork of the river near the Wawona area on the south end of the park.
Man dies after contracting hantavirus
A man died and a woman became seriously ill after contracting a rare rodent-borne disease that might have been linked to their stay at a popular lodging area in Yosemite National Park, officials said Thursday.
The man was the first person to die from hantavirus pulmonary syndrome contracted in the park, though two others were stricken in a more remote area in 2000 and 2010, officials said.
Testing by the Centers for Disease Control and the California Department of Public Health showed the virus was present in fecal matter from deer mice trapped near Curry Village, an historic, family friendly area of cabins.
"There's no way to tell for sure, but state health officials feel they may have contracted it here in Curry Village," park spokesman Scott Gediman said.
The woman was expected to survive. Their names weren't released.
Hantavirus develops from breathing in particles transmitted by rodent droppings, urine or saliva. Early symptoms of hantavirus can include fever and muscle aches, chills, headaches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain and coughing. Symptoms can show up within one to six weeks after exposure.
There is no specific treatment for the virus, and about one-third of people who contract it will die.
The victims stayed at the park on overlapping days in June in canvas tent cabins about 100 feet apart from each other, park officials said. Tent cabins are built on wooden platforms and are impossible to completely seal.
"It's a wilderness setting and the inspections have shown that the park concessionaire has done an excellent job at keeping them clean," Gediman said. "But there are rodents in the wilderness and some of them are infected and that's what happens."
There have been 60 cases in California and 587 nationally since hantavirus pulmonary syndrome was first identified in 1993. These two new cases bring to four the number of people stricken in California this year.
Most cases are in the eastern Sierra at higher elevations. The park's two previous cases were contracted in Tuolumne Meadows at 8,600 feet. Yosemite Valley is 4,000 feet.
Health officials say people should avoid contact with mice and other rodents. People should wear gloves and spray areas contaminated with rodent droppings and urine with a 10 percent bleach solution then wait 15 minutes before cleaning the area.
State health officials said their investigation showed that park concessionaire Delaware North Co. used good cleaning practices.