Rescues and Cleanup Underway After Deadly Colo. Floods
Flood damage to Hwy 36 north of Lyons. [Photo: Colo. Dept of Transportation]
12:30 pm Sunday
The death toll from the Colorado floods remains at four, but two others are missing and presumed dead in Larimer County. Hundreds more are unaccounted for across northern Colorado, though officials expect that number to drop as people regain access to cell service and check in with loved ones.
National Guard officials say they’ve rescued more than 2,000 people stranded by the floods. More rescue operations by air and truck convoy are planned for Sunday, but additional rainfall is hampering those efforts. Flood warnings are in effect for parts of Elbert, Jefferson, and Douglas Counties until 9pm. Flash flood watches are up for numerous cities and counties across central and north central parts of the state.
The death toll from this week's flooding has risen to four, after a woman's body was found in Boulder. Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle says the woman was swept away Thursday after the vehicle she was riding in got stuck in water north of Boulder. A man in the same vehicle died after he got out trying to help her. A third person died when a structure in Jamestown collapsed. To the south, Colorado Springs officers found a man's body in Fountain Creek.
Gov. John Hickenlooper signed an Executive Order Friday to declare a disaster emergency for fourteen counties due to the flooding: Adams, Arapahoe, Broomfield, Boulder, Denver, El Paso, Fremont, Jefferson, Larimer, Logan, Morgan, Pueblo, Washington and Weld. The order authorizes $6 million to pay for flood response and recovery.
Boulder County emergency officials say National Guard helicopters are rescuing hundreds of residents stranded in Jamestown. A county spokeswoman says almost 300 people have been airlifted so far from the flooded mountain town. Helicopter airlifts also are happening in Larimer County and in other parts of Boulder County.
Emergency officials are continuing to urge people to stay off roads in Boulder, Larimer, Weld, Jefferson, Clear Creek and Gilpin counties.
Interstate 25 is closed from north of Denver to Cheyenne, a 90-mile stretch. Three major rivers - Big Thompson, St. Vrain, and Poudre - normally flow under the highway in northern Colorado, but flood waters have pushed over the top of the roadway in some locations.
Meanwhile, officials have lifted the evacuation orders for Commerce City, and most roads there have been re-opened. Flooding forced some 2,000 people to leave their homes across three neighborhoods.
Officials in Boulder County say twenty people are unaccounted for, as floodwaters continue to keep many people out of their homes and unable to travel around the area.
Scores of roads in and around Boulder are closed, and two towns, Lyons and Jamestown, emain entirely cut off.
Heidi Prentup, with the Boulder County Sheriff’s office, says the National Guard is helping evacuate people from Lyons, but Jamestown is taking longer.
“Jamestown will be the first point that, when we can get aircraft up in the air, that we will get in to provide food and water to the residents there and then work on evacuating them,” Prentup said at a morning news conference.
Larimer County is also hoping to use aircraft to search for people who need help.
“We do know that there are people stranded throughout Larimer County,” said Sheriff Justin Smith. “We just can’t get in there.”
A flash flood watch is still in effect until noon today around Boulder and Larimer counties and in Denver. The Red Cross has opened at least 11 shelters along the front range.
The National Guard is in Lyons this morning. Flooding has cut that city off, flooding roads, and gas and sewer lines. Micky Trost with the Office of Emergency Management says they are assessing the damage but the priority is getting some 2500 residents to safety. “This mission in Lyons is to get the individuals up there that have been cut off and really trapped in that area due to unsafe conditions, washed out roads,” Trost said.
Water levels are reported falling in Boulder Creek. Boulder Police Chief Mark Beckner says the creek is down from its peak yesterday. He toured the city early this morning and says conditions are still dangerous. The city sounded warning sirens last night, alerting residents along the creek to find higher ground.
Boulder County and northern Colorado have seen the worst of this week’s flooding. But farther south, El Paso county is getting heavy rains that are washing away the yearlong effort to restore areas burned in the Waldo Canyon wildfire.
Theresa Springer of the Coalition for the Upper South Platte says some of the basins already in place to help catch debris and slow water have been compromised, and the roots of new vegetation simply aren’t deep enough yet.
"It is very saturated up there,” Springer said. “You walk, you’re sinking to your ankles in the mud. I don’t have a lot of high expectations for how well this burn scar is going to handle this heavy rain. So, we need to really just be prepared to start over from scratch."
Manitou Springs Mayor Marc Snyder says the mitigation efforts in place help for medium sized events.
"But the really big events, I’m not sure there’s anything anyone can really do to prevent those. And that’s always been the case here in Manitou Springs. Even before the fire, we’ve always lived under the threat of severe flooding, and unfortunately this summer has really driven that point home for us."
Springer said not everything’s been compromised, and better assessments of the catchment basins will come in the daytime hours.
"The ones that need some help, they’ll get the help they need to make them functional again,” Springer said. “And then we’ll reevaluate, find funding to put in more. And it’s always a funding issue that comes with this also."
Lieutenant Governor Joe Garcia has been touring flood-ravaged areas throughout the Front Range, including Manitou Springs. With rains predicted throughout the weekend, officials are reminding residents to be hyper-vigilant and seek higher ground when warnings are issued. (KRCC’s Andrea Chalfin contributed to this report.)
Roads into the foothills communities of Lyons and Jamestown are still cut off, and one person is confirmed missing in Boulder County.
Heavy rains overnight and throughout the day have caused flash flooding that’s damaged roads and killed three people along the Front Range.
The situation is still dangerous, according to Heidi Prentup with the Boulder County Sheriff’s office. She says forecasters have issued a flash flood watch for the area.
“They’re not giving us an end time on that flash flood warning,” Prentup said, “so that shows that they don’t know how long it’s going to be around either.”
She says twelve dams have been over-topped, but none have sustained structural damage.
Xcel Energy reports hundreds of customers have had their gas shut off because of the flooding.
In Boulder, resident Greg Berry is doing what he can to bail water off his property to save his home.
"We're vacuuming up using twelve-gallon wet-dry vacs,” he said, “and I mean it's been dozens of those that we've emptied in just the last couple of hours."
Boulder county officials are telling residents with wells under standing water to use boiled or bottled water. They want people to shelter in place and avoid venturing out into flood water, as it could be contaminated.
In Larimer County, emergency officials say the Poudre River is rising, and residents along the river should be ready to evacuate.
Denver officials say roads in the city are mostly open, but they say drivers should use caution when traveling because more rain is expected overnight.
Governor Hickenlooper has declared disasters for flooded areas around the Front Range. The state has asked for an emergency disaster declaration from the federal government as well, which would bring in extra resources. Hickenlooper says the federal declaration should just be a formality, given the widespread destruction.
“Bridges and culverts and homes ... waste water facilities … I mean it’s going to take us awhile to rebuild from this without question,” the governor said at a press briefing.
He says the Department of Defense is already sending Coast Guard helicopters to Colorado.
Meanwhile, Larimer County officials are asking people in the Big Thompson Canyon to evacuate to Loveland or Estes Park. They are telling residents in Poudre Canyon to be ready to leave as well.
The Red Cross is operating shelters or evacuation centers in Boulder, Longmont, Estes Park, Erie, Commerce City and Manitou Springs.
Earlier on Thursday, Aurora saw nearly half an inch of rain fall in fifteen minutes. Village East Elementary School students were evacuated to Campus Middle School.
Residents of an area near Lowry were told to leave their homes because of an overflowing pond in metro Denver.
Three are reported dead, roads destroyed, and buildings flooded as heavy rains pounded the Front Range. The Boulder County Sheriff’s office reported that the town of Jamestown, home to about 200 people, is being evacuated.
The rain many be letting up in some areas, but City of Boulder spokeswoman Sarah Huntley is warning people to stay away from Boulder Creek because debris dams can still break upstream and lead to more flash flooding.
“We had a number of people go down to the creek, the Boulder Creek area in particular, to try to see what’s going on. And the risk is still very real,” she said at a news conference.
A quarter of the buildings at CU-Boulder have some type of flooding damage. Campus is closed Thursday and Friday.
The Front Range is expecting rainfall throughout the rest of the day. Manitou Springs is bracing for more possible flooding this afternoon.
Two northern Colorado towns are marooned by flood waters and damaged highways. Roads are closed in and out of Lyons and Estes Park. The flooding is the result of heavy rains that have been hammering the Front Range foothills since Wednesday. Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle says continuing rain has made it difficult to get help to Lyons.
"They are completely isolated at this point," Pelle said at a morning news conference. "There is no access in and out, they’ve lost their sewer plant, they’ve lost their fresh water, they’ve lost their market. People are huddled on high ground, and we are trying desperately to get to them to bring them supplies."
Northwest of Lyons, the roads serving Estes Park have been closing one by one. Mindy Crane with the state Department of Transportation says State Highway 7, US 36, US 34, and State Highway 72 are closed.
"There is not a good route in and out of Estes Park right now," she said.
At least three deaths are blamed on the storm – two in Boulder County, and one in Colorado Springs, where there is flooding in the Waldo Canyon burn area west of the city.
Gov. Hickenlooper's office has approved a disaster declaration because of the floods and will request a similar declaration from the federal government.
In Boulder, schools and city offices are closed today. The University of Colorado is also closed. Hundreds of graduate students and staff who live in family housing on campus, adjacent to Boulder Creek, have had to relocate. Some student dorms have sustained water damage.
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