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Cell tower workers stranded on Steens

— Update: Workers reported rescued Tuesday afternoon.

PORTLAND — Four cellphone tower workers stranded by a storm on Steens Mountain in southeast Oregon have holed up in a concrete block building at about 9,000 feet, where they had food, water and heat, authorities said Monday.

Whiteout conditions foiled an effort to rescue them by snowmobile on Monday, said Matt Fine, Harney County search and rescue coordinator, so the workers faced a third night on the mountain.

The weather was expected to improve Tuesday, Fine said.

The four men were reported warm and safe in the structure at the base of the tower they’ve been working on, with a propane-fired generator, cellphones and chargers, as well as food.

“Their lives are not in danger,” said Sheriff Dave Glerup of Harney County, a 10,000-square-mile expanse where the population is about three-quarters of a person per square mile and the 30-mile-long mountain rises a mile above the surrounding high desert.

The four tried to leave the mountain in poor visibility Saturday, Glerup said. They got off the road and got stuck, spent the night in their snow vehicle and got back to the concrete structure the next day, he said.

A ground party of about 15 rescuers set out by snow cat and snowmobile on Monday and got within about 1 1/2 miles of the shelter before “snowing, blowing, zero visibility” weather turned them back, Fine said.

A search and rescue team was also turned back Sunday by weather.

The road to the top of the mountain, whose summit is about 9,700 feet, is narrow and twisty, and it crosses steep terrain cut by ravines.

In a storm, with wind speeds of up to 70 mph, Glerup said, “it’s just too treacherous.”

The crew’s employer, James Kramer of Legacy Wireless Services of Clackamas, said he’s been in touch with the workers, as have relatives.

“They’re in good spirits,” he said.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.


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