Colorado floods: Rising waters and rising fears

Flood waters course through a small park in Boulder, Colo., in this image made with a slow shutter speed. (Jud Valeski / AP / September 9, 2013)

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By Michael Muskal and Jenny Dean September 12, 2013, 3:33 p.m.

BOULDER, Colo. – Sherri Parker walked into a Barnes & Noble bookstore Wednesday night during a drizzle, part of days-long precipitation that turned the area into a soggy mess.

When she and her daughter emerged half an hour later, they had to slog through 8 inches of standing water, and Parker said she didn’t know whether they could make it home.

They weren’t sure they could get out of the parking lot, she told the Los Angeles Times on Thursday after rain poured from the skies for the fourth consecutive day. There was water in part of their home, she said, but the family hadn't had to evacuate because the house is on a hill.

Officials urged residents to seek higher ground as heavy rains brought flash floods, flood warnings and advisories to much of the state. The saturated ground simply could not absorb the overnight deluge.

As much as 9 inches fell in hours in some areas, forcing rivers and creeks over their banks. Rivers of water demolished some roads and dams.

The towns of Lyons and Jamestown were cut off, as were others. By late afternoon, high-clearance armored vehicles were moving across blocked mountain roads to help stranded people. Residents were told to boil drinking water as a precaution.

At least three people were confirmed dead, and officials warned that there could be more once emergency workers reached isolated areas. The National Guard was helping the rescue effort.

Gov. John Hickenlooper issued a disaster declaration. “We've approved disaster declaration & will request emerg. declaration from FEMA for search & rescue & emergency protective actions,” Hickenlooper said via Twitter on Thursday morning. The declaration could bring added funds to deal with what is expected to be millions of dollars in damage.

Some news reports said hundreds of people had been evacuated.

In Boulder, there were no evacuations, but driving around was a white-knuckle affair as water turned roadways into slip-sliding chutes of potential disaster. Traffic was snarled at many streets. In low-lying areas, water, once comfortably deposited within the banks of streams, spread like spilled ink, staining roads.

Geysers sprung up from underground, spouting through the small holes in manhole covers.

Behind Boulder Community Foothills Hospital, water was thigh-deep and rising fast in the parking lot. Rushing rapids moved through a nearby recreation area, overturning picnic tables and nearly reaching volleyball nets. Trees and bushes had become underwater plants.

Justin Sikkema said he drove from Boulder to Arvada about 10 p.m. Wednesday and his was one of the last cars to beat the road closures. He said he saw a car submerged up to the hood.

“Boulder County is experiencing a disaster today that is broad in scope and very dangerous in nature,” Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said during a morning news briefing. “We know that we've lost lives. We anticipate that as the day goes on we may discover that we've lost others.”

The University of Colorado-Boulder was closed Thursday and will remain closed Friday as officials assess the damage.

Homes were in peril in the Larimer County areas of Big Elk Meadows, Pine Springs and Blue Mountain, and residents were told to seek safety. Several creeks in Boulder and Larimer counties, including Coal Creek, Left Hand Canyon Creek, 4 Mile Creek and St. Vrain Creek, were flooding over their banks Thursday.

All roads into the nearby foothills were closed, as were many into Boulder. There had been reports of people stranded in trees and huddled on rooftops in the foothills with emergency workers unable to reach them. There were also reports of 8-foot-high debris walls pushed by more than 6 feet of water.

The usually tranquil Boulder Creek was flowing at more than 1,800 cubic feet per second, nine times its usual rate, city spokeswoman Sarah Huntley said at the morning news briefing. Overnight, she said, the creek was roaring at 3,200 cubic feet per second.

Colorado flood: 3 killed, streets impassable, dams overflow

By Jordan Steffen and Kieran Nicholson
The Denver PostPosted: 09/12/2013 04:42:49 AM PDT | Updated: about 3 hours ago

Colorado Radar
Three vehicles crashed into a creek close after the road washed out from beneath them near Dillon Rd. and 287 in Broomfield Colorado, September 12, 2013 in heavy flooding. Three people were rescued. (Andy Cross, The Denver Post)

Heavy rain and massive flooding threatens towns and cities up and down the Front Range all day and into the night Thursday as communities were evacuated, roads closed and emergency shelters set up.

Three people were confirmed dead and at least one missing.

Gov. John Hickenlooper announced on Twitter Thursday night that President Obama had approved the request for federal disaster assistance related to the flooding.

The conditions continued to worsen as the rains pounded Thursday. Additional storms were forecast throughout the evening, with up to an inch of rain per hour.

Commerce City ordered evacuations from the
Cenobio Chacon tries to get his son's car out of the path of the flood outside his home in north Boulder, September 12, 2013. The car is stuck in the middle of Topaz Dr. that is overrun with water. (RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post)

Irondale neighborhood about 7 p.m."The evacuation is due to a dam failure on the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge. There is an embankment currently holding back a significant amount of water which is 300 yards wide, three-quarters of a mile long and about 15-20 feet deep. That is equivalent to three football fields in width and 12 football fields in length. The embankment is expected to fail within the next hour and water will begin flowing in the neighborhood," the city posted on its web site.

Cherry Creek Schools and Aurora Schools agreed to close "in the interest of public safety caused by the heavy rains," the Aurora Police Department reported.

Several roads are underwater in Jefferson County where conditions continue to get worse Thursday evening, according to the sheriff's office. A disaster declaration has been signed and the county is under a state of emergency. "Flood conditions are deteriorating rapidly," the sheriff's office reported at 7 p.m. Rain was falling at the rate of one inch per hour.

In Aurora, police warned during rush hour that Peoria Street, near Jewell and Florida, was collapsing because of flooding. Police used an emergency call list to warn neighbors to stay

away.At 5 p.m. Longmont ordered new evacuations for residents of the Creekside, Estate Greens and Champion Greens neighborhoods near the St. Vrain River. Residents of Willow Creek, Schlagel and Grandview Meadows neighborhoods were also evacuated. Some 7,000 homes had been evacuated by 6 p.m.

The Big Thompson River breached U.S. 34 in two places near Estes Park and residents were evacuated to shelters. The city said the distribution site at Elm Road had run out of sand bags.

Lafayette send emergency notice to residents of the Centaur South subdivision just before 5
Chris Trostel uses a garden hoe to pole vault across the rising water on his family's property along Weld County Road 11 in Northglenn, Colorado on September 12, 2013. (Seth McConnell, The Denver Post)

p.m. that they needed to evacuate. At 4:30 the Larimer County Sheriff's Office sent notice to 1,540 contacts to evacuate near the Poudre River, along Glade Road and Buckhorn Road.

Around 6 p.m., U.S. 24 was closed in both directions from Cascade to Manitou Springs because of flash flood warnings in El Paso County.

Two Boulder County towns have become islands in the flood as emergency crews continue to struggle to gain access to Lyons and Jamestown.

Radio contact has been the only communication with people in Jamestown. Xcel Energy cut off power to almost all of Lyons.

"It's going to take us a while to rebuild from this, no question," Gov. John Hickenlooper said during an afternoon news briefing.

Panorama of Coal Creek stream flooding near Vista Ridge Parkway, west of County Line Road in Erie on Thursday, September, 12, 2013. The stream ordinarily runs at about 6-inches deep and about 6-feet wide. (Doug Conarroe, North Forty News)

warned residents to steer clear of the South Platte River near Ken Mitchell Lakes Thursday afternoon. The river is expected to overflow its banks and "cause extremely hazardous conditions in the area," the city said in a news release.Jefferson County warned that homes were threatened in the area of Quaker and Leyden Rock Drive as Leyden Creek was overflowing its banks. Approximately 35 homes are under a voluntary evacuation.

The Denver Police Department announced evacuations between Lowry and Stapleton because of high water Thursday afternoon. The impacted area is from Colfax Avenue to 11th Avenue, from Verbena Street to Xanthia Street. Evacuees were told to go to 11th Avenue at Yosemite where RTD buses were waiting. Residents
Flood waters engulf the front of a pair of cars on a property along Weld County Road 2 in Northglenn, Colorado on September 12, 2013. (Seth McConnell, The Denver Post)

were notified by emergency phone calls. Parts of Central Park Boulevard and Northfield Boulevard were closed, as was the ramp from eastbound I-70 to Quebec.A retaining wall on Boulder Canyon drive failed and Boulder Canyon was closed because of the unstable mountainside. It was expected to be closed at least two days.

At an afternoon news conference Boulder officials said at least 12 dams in the county had overflowed.The Boulder airport was closed as well as Boulder mountain parks and open space until further notice.

The first reported fatality was reported after a home collapsed in Jamestown, said Andrew Barth, spokesman for the Boulder Office of Emergency Management. The man has not yet been identified.

Boulder officials said that a man and woman were inside a car that was caught in the flood waters. Officials found the man's body in north Boulder in the 200 block of Linden Drive on Thursday afternoon. The woman is still missing.

The Boulder Daily Camera identified the man as Wesley Quinlan, a recent graduate of Centaurus High School.

"The event is far from over," Pelle told a morning news conference. "We know we've lost lives. As the day goes on we may find we've lost others."

To the south in Colorado Springs, police noticed a body floating in the creek near Nevada Avenue and Las Vegas Street while conducting flood patrols in the area around 4:15 a.m., the city said in a news release. The man was identified Thursday afternoon as Danny Davis, 54.

Loveland evacuated residents along the Big Thompson River and students were sent home early from school. The city declared a state of emergency.

People living north of the Kenosha Farm neighborhood in Erie were ordered to evacuate and Erie Municipal Airport was closed.

Emergency personnel and rescue groups in Boulder County have been hampered in the their efforts to get to people who are trapped in canyons and along rivers, streams and creeks throughout the county, Pelle said.

Washed-out roads, washed-out bridges, rock and mudslides, and deep pools of unstable water temporarily dammed by debris are contributing to the unpredictable and dangerous situation, Pelle said.

"The efforts to get there is being continually frustrated," Pelle said.

The town of Lyons, in the foothills northwest of Boulder is completely shut off and isolated by flood waters. The town's fresh water and sewage operations have been halted by flooding and the food market is shut down.

Jamestown is also surrounded by water.

"We had about a two-feet wall of water rush into town," clerk Burch said. "It took out decks and sheds. One house could go at any time. The foundation is hanging over the creek."

Burch said the city's water main is broke and one of two main bridges is about to go.

"We are still in the very early stages of trying to assess what we've had happen to us," Pelle said of Boulder County.

Speaking on KBCO 97.3 FM on Thursday, Hickenlooper estimated that Colorado had received the equivalent of 100 inches of snow in 24 hours. "It's a staggering amount of precipitation. Given the drought situation we've had, it's was almost a year's worth of rain."

No city's storm water system is engineered to handle such a deluge, he said.

"We're going to have to bite our lip, buckle down and help each other clean up and rebuild."

State officials called out the Colorado National Guard to help overnight.

The Red Cross is working to open and operate shelters for people who cannot go home.

Heavy rain and rising waters also caused several road closures and evacuations in the metro area Thursday afternoon.

The Fairfax Park neighborhood of Commerce City was evacuated about noon Thursday when the Fairfax Park detention pond reached capacity.

Rain continued to pour throughout the night and morning, causing mudslides and rock slides. Parts of Aurora received 0.4 inches of rain in a 15-minute period Thursday morning and up to 11 inches in the last 24 hours. The Community College of Aurora closed, and schools are sending children home early. Aurora Public Schools asked parents to pick up children.

The Cherry Creek School District canceled all after-school activities and asked parents to pick up their children because students would not be allowed to walk home because of the forecast for severe weather.

Students from Village East Elementary School were evacuated because of flooding. Parents were asked to pick up their children at Campus Middle School, at 4785 Dayton St., Greenwood Village.

Flood waters in east Denver stranded Charlene O'Shea, 31, at about 9:45 a.m. Thursday on 14th Avenue and Kearney Street near Monaco Parkway. O'Shea said she was on her way to work at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora when the flooding stalled out her Pontiac G6.

"I came across this, I didn't think it was that deep and my car just shut off," O'Shea said.

Denver firefighters in the area helped O'Shea and two other women from their cars. O'Shea said a firefighter waded to her car in waist-deep water.

"He asked me if I wanted help and he carried me out," she said.

The Jefferson County Sheriff's Office said Colorado 72 was "completely washed out in an area between Plainview Road and Twin Spruce Road." Commerce City and Thornton closed roads, as well.

Emergency notifications were sent to 400 homes in Big Elk Meadow, Pine Springs and the Blue Mountain area regarding a dam overflowing, according to the Larimer County Sheriff's Office Twitter account.

The University of Colorado Boulder closed campus Thursday and had to evacuate some dorms due to the flood waters, said Bronson Hilliard, CU spokesman. The campus will also be closed Friday.

About 11 students will have to be permanently relocated because the damage to their rooms was so severe.

Students were warned Thursday morning to stay away from Boulder Creek and other areas of water as a safety precaution. Parents were notified about the floods. There are no reports of any missing students.

Overnight and early this morning students went out in the rain to play, ride bikes and take photographs.

"If it's still flowing, or in a tunnel, or a pretty picture, stay away from it," Hilliard said at a morning media conference with other Boulder officials. "It could be the last picture you ever take.

"We hope that message is getting through."

A road collapse at U.S. 287 and Dillon at the Broomfield/Lafayette border sent three vehicles into the water at about 6 a.m. Firefighters secured their cars with ropes and then used a boat to rescue the three drivers from the normally dry drainage. Authorities said all three were sent to the hospital with minor injuries.

A gas line was exposed and has been impacted by one of the three vehicles that fell into the washed out roadway.

The duration of the rains, on-and-off for more than 48 hours, and the widespread areas that are being hit, have combined to create a flash flooding situation that's unusual, said Sarah Huntley, a Boulder spokeswoman.

Typical flash floods in the West are spawned by a quick, isolated deluges, Huntley said. They often sweep through a specific area and are followed by a drying out period.

Not so with this storm, which has threatened the drainage system of the entire county.

Rain pounded much of the Front Range all Wednesday night, with as many as five overlapping flash flood warnings issued.

The weather forecast for northern Colorado Thursday calls for periods of moderate to heavy rain, with rainfall rates in excess of 2 inches per hour. Additional rain could lead to more flash flooding Thursday including low lying urban areas.
Staff writers Jeremy P. Meyer, Yesenia Robles, Kirk Mitchell, Carlos Illescas and Monte Whaley contributed to this report.

Hoping our member from Co. are ok and sending prayers. Please let us know your status.

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