Flood Cleanup a ‘Stinky, Nasty’ Chore

Photo 1: Debris piled along Moorhead Avenue in south Boulder. Photo 2: Colby Pearce cleaning up his basement in north Boulder. [CPR/PMack]

Along Moorhead Avenue in south Boulder, mud cakes the curb. Flood-soaked mattresses, blankets and carpet are piled in front of a half dozen homes. Jimmye O’Connor has lived here for 30 years and has never seen anything like the wall of water that rushed down the mountain and into her home.

"At one time, I just wanted to sit down and cry, because I couldn’t keep the water out of our front door even," she said.

When the rain ended, she and her husband had four feet of water and mud in their basement, ruining a bed, couch, washer, dryer, water heater and furnace. Even her beloved 1999 Dodge Neon was ruined when eight inches of rain ended up in the garage.

"It’s all gone," she said.

Boulder is one of the areas hit hardest by the massive flooding that started last week and has spread across 17 counties along the Front Range. Cleanup efforts are in full swing.

The water in the O'Connors' basement eventually escaped down a drain, but they’re still working to get rid of the mud. "It’s dirty, stinking, yucky, nasty - whatever you want to call it, it’s that," she said.

O'Connor fears her home has structural damage, but she still feels fortunate because her home sits on a flood plain, so she has flood insurance. Many people in Boulder do not.

So much stuff ended up flooded that crews are working around the clock to haul away debris from 21 collection sites.

"It’s a huge challenge," said Sarah Huntley, a spokeswoman for the city.

Boulder Creek runs right past her office in the municipal building and through the center of town. That’s why Boulder has long been called Colorado’s most vulnerable city to flash flooding. Officials are trained to be prepared, but not for a disaster of this scale.

"We have anticipated having problems with one creek, maybe two creeks," Huntley said. "What was unprecedented about this situation was that it was so widespread, so massive, where almost every, if not every, drainage ditch, drainage channel, creek, river, stream, lake was impacted, all at the same time."

Estimates suggest cleaning up and rebuilding will run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. In Boulder, the extent of the damage can be gauged by the brisk business at McGunkin Hardware, a 65,000 square foot store that opened in 1955. Since the flooding started last week, people have been snapping up supplies.

"Fans, sump pumps, flex tubing, pipe, mops, squeegees, you name it," said Marketing Manager Louise Garrels.

She says the store has sold 1500 sump pumps so far. She says McGunkin usually only sees this much business during its twice-yearly tent sales.

Shoppers are sharing tips with each other on how to deal with the flooding. Garrels calls those "MacGyver moments," after the improvising secret agent of 1980s TV fame. She says people are learning a lot about what can be done with tarps and duct tape.

In north Boulder, Colby Pearce scrapes the floor down to the cement in his basement and recalls his own "MacGyver moment."

"I built this sort of Macgyver doghouse block contraption to try to get the water to go, not down the stairwell, but out our driveway because it was coming down our backyard like a river," Pearce said.

Pearce thinks his actions helped. He ended up with only about an inch of water in his basement. He and his wife, are waiting for the results of mold testing before deciding whether to just move away. Thousands of others across the state face similar choices.