Two families from Weld County lost everything in last September's floods. We've been following their stories over the past 10 months, learning how difficult it is for families to recover physically and emotionally from a natural disaster.
The Sanchez Family
Jose Sanchez stabs a shovel into the earth behind his backyard on a hot July evening. He's removing gravel and stubborn weeds. Soon he will plant grass so his 12-year-old son has a place to play outside their new trailer home in Greeley.
The project has taken longer than Sanchez wanted because he has had to work overtime to replace the things the family lost in the floods. High waters swept away their home, a car and everything else they owned last year.
“Everything was necessary," Sanchez says of what needs to be replaced. "We needed it all right down to the spoons.”
Sanchez, his wife and their 20-year-old daughter all work for a cleaning company. They’ve each put in 80-90 hour weeks making about minimum wage since the disaster to save up the money to put their life back together.
After the floods, the Sanchez family stayed in a shelter. Then they moved to a hotel for three months. They were the last family of hundreds to leave.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) helped pay the family's bill.
Even though Sanchez and his wife are in the United States without documentation, their U.S.-born son is a citizen. His status qualified the family for aid money.
Yet even with federal financial assistance, the family couch surfed with friends for months.
Eventually the Sanchez family teamed up with extended family members to split the cost of a used trailer. A few months ago they moved into a simple double wide trailer in a largely Latino neighborhood in Greeley. The trailer park where they used to live in Evans was destroyed by the floods.
Life is returning to normal. But, working overtime will continue for a while. The family racked up thousands of dollars in credit card debt replacing everything from beds to a car.
Even with looming debt, the Sanchez family feels lucky compared to the Romero family who live about 15 minutes south in Platteville.
The Romero Family
On a hot afternoon the circle of white temporary trailers where the Romeros live feels barren and sterile. The family of six are sharing a FEMA mobile home like 28 other families still housed in termporary trailers after the floods.
The Romeros barely escaped their home as waters rose last September and lost everything except the clothes on their backs. They didn’t have flood insurance and they were scared to ask for help because both parents live in the United States without documentation.
The mother, Aracelli Romero, is a stay at home mom. The father, Jose Romero, is fighting a legal battle to stay in the United States. While the courts review his situation, he is working night shifts six days a week in the oil fields that are scattered throughout Weld County.
Dark circles ring Aracelli Romero's eyes. She looks much older than she did 10 months ago. She seems to have a few more gray hairs.
It wasn’t until recently that the Romeros found a trailer in their budget. Like the Sanchez's their children are US citizens and that qualifies them for disaster aid. They received around $30,000 from FEMA and they also received donations from aid organizations and individuals. They paid about $14,000 for their current trailer that needs electricity, water, insulation and heat before the family can move in. They need money to fix it up, but it has been hard to save on a single income and six mouths to feed.
“We haven’t been able to process the fact that life goes on for everybody else but for us everything stopped in September 2013,” Aracelli Romero says.
Sonia Marquez, of the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, says there are hundreds of Latino families like the Romeros whose neighborhoods were destroyed by the flood.
“They miss their neighbors," Marquez says. "They’ve lost a sense of community and stability and everyone is spread all around Weld County.”
All four of the Romero family's youngest children are seeing a psychologist for trauma they sustained because of the floods. Everyone in the family suffers from nightmares of drowning.
When heavy rains drenched northern Colorado earlier this summer the family was terrified.
“Even if there are clouds coming, you think that maybe life is going to change again," Aracelli Romero says.
The damage from the floods that swept through Colorado last September is about $3 billion. The state estimates that repairs on roads, bridges and public utilities is about 75 percent complete.