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“Just needs to stop” FRONT RANGE FLOODWATERS KILL THREE, DRENCH HOMES STRANDED: Water swallows roads, completely cutting o≠ Lyons, Estes Park and Jamestown.

FORECAST: More heavy rain is expected to prolong the menace and delay the recovery.

Sonia Chacon clears debris from around her family’s home in north Boulder. Floodwaters damaged roads and homes, and left three people dead. RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post


By John Ingold, Kristen Leigh Painter, Jordan Steffen and Monte Whaley The Denver Post

By Eric Gorski The Denver Post

rop by drop by drop, historic rainfall across a 150-mile expanse of Colorado’s Front Range turned neighborhood streams into rampaging torrents that claimed at least three lives and continued to flood homes and destroy roads into the night. Heavy rain returned to the region Thursday evening, threatening an equally disastrous Friday. By the end of Thursday, thousands had been evacuated from their homes in places as far apart as Loveland, Erie and Aurora as rain-swollen creeks and rivers threatened their homes. Nearly every road heading into the foothills of Boulder, Larimer and northern Jefferson counties was blocked by floodwaters or debris. Loveland and Longmont were essentially shorn in two by road closures near the Big Thompson and St. Vrain

The water rose in the black of night. At 2:20 a.m., over the emergency broadcast system at Lyons High School, a voice warned of flash flooding on the St. Vrain. Sirens blared. Residents knocked on doors, hurriedly packed, hoped for the best. In Jamestown, deeper in the mountains of Boulder County, emergency notification calls stirred residents awake at 2:17 a.m. Water and boulders roared down Little Jim Creek. The one-room elementary schoolhouse became a shelter. A man was presumed dead after a single-story yellow house collapsed. The 100-year flood — or was 500 years more like it? — had come. Within hours, both towns were islands. A deluge even the National Weather Service described as bearing biblical proportions ISLANDS » 7A


Three vehicles sit in water after a chunk of Dillon Road washed out near U.S. 287 in Broomfield early Thursday. Andy Cross, The Denver Post



From Estes Park to Colorado Springs, stories of the floods along the Front Range surface. »4A

At least six dams are overrun, but highest-hazard structures are holding fine, officials say. »8A

Inside: Complete coverage of the storm from around Colorado. »4-15A


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Front Range Flooding friday, september 13, 2013 B B the denverpost


“It’s a staggering amount of precipitation. Given the drought situation we’ve had, it was almost a year’s worth of rain.” Gov. John Hickenlooper BOULDER

Roads, homes ripped in deadly flooding Residents were both mesmerized and terrorized by the epic rainfall and engorged creeks that roared to life Thursday, tearing away roads, ripping homes off foundations and even killing two people in Boulder County. “No words,” said Vincente Castro, who was forced out of his mobile home that sits beside a normally small Fourmile Creek. “I have lived here 14 years and have never seen anything like this.” Early Thursday, as rush hour was beginning, a section of Dillon Road near U.S. 287 on the Boulder County line gave way. Two pickup trucks and a sedan plunged into the roaring Rock Creek, which is normally an imperceptible stream. Firefighters called to the scene tied ropes to the vehicles, which each had one person inside. Over the next 90 minutes, rescuers floated boats up to the vehicles and got the drivers out. Amy Gurrentz carried two kittens and a backpack with some clothes from her northwest Boulder home at Linden Drive and North Cedar Brook Road. She was told to walk out of her neighborhood because the roads were too unstable for cars. “Our house is OK, but houses around us are getting washed out,” she said. “The entire landscape has changed.” In town, college students and residents had ignored warnings and were drawn to Boulder Creek, which had turned into a roiling, coffee-colored beast smelling of sewage, carrying tree branches, swamping parks and barely clearing roads. Laurie Grayson on Kalmia Street in north Boulder hauled sandbags into her already flooded basement as she and her family braced for another rainy night. Her stark white carpet was now stained brown with muck. A few doors down, 5 feet of rainwater filled a garage, submerging cars inside so only their rooftops peeked out from the sludge. Another neighbor used a hot-tub pump to move water from her basement. And another had just begun grappling with the loss of family photos. “There’s nothing I can do about it,” said Grayson, noting that her hot tub, empty the night before, was now full of water. “They’re just possessions. We’re fine, so it’s fine.” Vicki O’Connor sat in her sunroom Wednesday night, watching the rain come down. And it kept coming. And coming. And coming. “I thought, it’s raining too hard,” she said, “there’s going to be trouble.” Thursday morning was worse. “I woke up and I had a river in front and a river in back of my house,” O’Connor said. Five feet of rushing water had climbed over her porch, leaving slippery mud in its wake. She called around in search of sandbags but stores were sold out. Finally her son took a pump made to clean a hot tub and used it to suck the 2 feet of water from her basement. A firefighter stranded in a tree overnight in Lefthand Canyon was able to escape, the sheriff’s department said. The firefighter suffered serious injuries.

Kim Schuler carries his wife, Cheryl, away from their home on Upland Avenue in Boulder on Thursday, while son Kyle trudges through the water and mud to salvage what the family can. Heavy overnight rains flooded nearby Fourmile Creek. Joe Amon, The Denver Post day afternoon, people were sent to the Longmont Recreation Center on Quail Road. Volunteers passed out handdrawn maps to the evacuees directing them to Niwot High. Some of the displaced had no transportation and so they moved on buses. “It’s been kind of a crummy day,” said Kristina Wright, 18, who was evacuated with her family and three dogs from their home in Southmoor Park. “Yes, it’s kind of annoying we keep having to move, but at least everyone’s safe.” The family left home around 9:30 a.m. By 7:30 p.m., they were making a third move, this time with Kristina and her sister taking the bus to Niwot and their parents and the dogs headed to higher ground in the car. Inside Silver Creek, the nurse’s office was filled with elderly people who had made the move using walkers and wheelchairs. School nurses used to tending to teenage ailments were taking blood pressures and making sure patients had their medications as they prepared to move the people to buses again. The St. Vrain swelled out of its banks several times during the day, crossing South Main and cutting the southern neighborhoods off from the north. “We are having a hard time getting supplies,” said Boulder County Sheriff’s Deputy Steve Aubrey. “We are checking with the National Guard to see if we can get cots for everyone tonight.” The center at Silver Creek had registered 150 people by 4 p.m. Stacy Davis, the security and emergency manager for the St. Vrain Valley School District, said

they are making do with what they have, but said there are so many evacuation centers open along Front Range open that supplies are running low. “The Red Cross is pretty much tapped out,” Davis said. “The community has been generous, but the last thing we want is to have people trying to drive out here to deliver supplies.” The small crew of organizers are scrambling to find bedding, food and change of clothes for evacuees arriving in wet clothes.


Neighborhood faces a perilous situation Commerce City authorities evacuated the Irondale neighborhood after a day of carefully monitoring floodwater flowing across Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge. Around 8 p.m., water began to spill over an earthen embankment between the Arsenal and the railroad tracks. The city said the water was 12-15 feet deep over an area 300 yards wide and three-quarters of a mile long. The evacuation area is bounded by East 88th Avenue and East 80th Avenue and Monaco Street and Colorado 2. The city also faced an especially perilous situation in the Fairfax Park neighborhood, where overflowing pond water engulfed the Shady Lane Mobile Home Park and an adjacent Xcel power station. Flooding rapidly made it impossible for vehicles to reach trailers. And water levels reaching up to electrical transformers raised the potential for major electrical trouble, South Adams Fire Capt. Cole Mondragon said


Waldo burn area on constant alert It was an off-again, on-again day for the weary Waldo Canyon burn scar area. After a flash flood warning Thursday morning, with Fountain Creek running high in Manitou Springs, the sun made a brief appearance. However, a new round of heavy rain developed across the Pikes Peak region Thursday afternoon and into the evening. New flood warnings were issued, and several motorists were rescued from flooded vehicles. Sirens sounded yet again in Manitou Springs.


Water rescue at apartment complex Heavy rains snarled traffic, flooded streets and parks and swamped an apartment complex, requiring a water rescue Thursday. As the evening commute began, Aurora authorities were warning motorists to stay away from South Peoria Street near East Jewel Avenue, because the road was collapsing. Shortly after 2 p.m., water as deep as 5 feet swamped an area surrounding an apartment complex at 9906 Arizona Ave., near East Mississippi Avenue and South Peoria Street. Rescue crews used inflatable rafts to bring stranded people to safety, said Lori MacKenzie, a city spokeswoman.


Mud-colored streets close downtown


Conditions worsen through the day Conditions in parts of Longmont along the rapidly swelling St. Vrain River worsened throughout the day Thursday, forcing evacuation centers set up to aid some of the 7,000 people chased from 12 south-side neighborhoods to move twice. The evacuation center moved at 7:15 p.m. to Niwot High School from Silver Creek High School. When the mandatory evacuations notices were issued Thurs-

as he supervised the evacuation of more than 50 residents. People left fast, leaving pets barking and cats meowing inside some trailers.

The bloated South St. Vrain River collapsed a stretch of Colorado 7 about 12 miles west of Lyons. The river Thursday was ripping through the area. Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post

In Estes Park, downtown streets were closed on Thursday because of flooding that left streets the color of mud. The Safeway on the east side of town buzzed with shoppers and acted as a community hub. A stream of people checked the pay phone out front in vain, trying to reach outsiders. Land lines and cellphone service were down, but cable TV service and computers provided links out. “Fires, we can handle. Blizzards are no problem, but, God,

rain has shut us down,” said Maribeth Tinsmith, a town resident for 30 years as she shopped for groceries at the town Safeway Thursday afternoon. “We’re just treading water until this is over.” Children played near newly formed streams. Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith said Estes Park was essentially an island. Access to the town from the south on U.S. 36 was effectively cut off since there is no access to the town of Lyons further south because of flooding.


Folks ordered to leave neighborhoods Evacuations along the Big Thompson River corridor that had been voluntary early Thursday morning became mandatory at midday. An evacuation center was established at the Thompson School District offices, 800 S. Taft Ave. City of Loveland spokesman Tom Hacker said it’s unclear how many homes are impacted by the mandatory evacuation, which took effect at about 9:45 a.m. The entire Big Thompson River corridor from the Dam Store at the mouth of the Big Thompson Canyon to County Road 9 is covered by the mandatory evacuation, Police Chief Luke Hacker said.


407 residents receive high-water alerts Early Thursday evening , the Larimer County sheriff’s office sent out alerts to 407 residents that the Poudre River was rapidly rising and that flooding was imminent in low-lying areas of the Poudre Canyon. Residents were directed to an evacuation shelter at Timberline Church on Timberline Road in Fort Collins. “We have had a lot of calls about water being over the roads and on lawns in the Poudre River area,” said Jennifer Hillmann, Larimer sheriff’s spokeswoman. “We are trying to be proactive because it looks like rain is building again from the south. We are trying to get people out while roads are still there.” Boulders and erosion closed U.S. 34 between Loveland and Estes Park on Thursday morning, trapping residents along an 8mile stretch of Big Thompson Canyon near the town of Drake.

Online: The latest updates on flooding throughout Colorado, including school and road closures. »


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FLOODS «FROM 1A rivers that kept residents on one side unable to cross to the other. At least three Colorado towns — Lyons, Estes Park and Jamestown — were entirely isolated by water. Xcel Energy cut off power to most of Lyons. In Estes Park, a community of about 6,000 people, both telephone lines and cellphone towers were down. As darkness fell, the only communication into or out of the town was by ham radio. “God, it just needs to stop,” said Bob Stahl, who lives within a block of the St. Vrain River in Longmont. “I just hope it quits.” So fierce and sustained was the deluge that officials said they don’t know how bad the damage is or how long it will take to fix. Roads crews couldn’t reach flooded areas. More heavy rain was expected overnight and Friday morning — both prolonging the rivers’ menace and delaying the recovery from their wrath. Sirens sounded again in Boulder after 10 p.m. as Boulder Creek passed the previous night’s levels. All together, the floods were expected to be some of the worst in state history. “It’s going to take us a while to rebuild from this, no question,” Gov. John Hickenlooper said Thursday afternoon. “A storm of this size is going to cause severe consequences.” Even without more rain, flooding was expected to ripple for days. Flooding is predicted on Friday along the South Platte River east of Greeley, said U.S. Geological Survey spokesman Robert Kimbrough. On Saturday, minor flooding is expected along the same river near Sterling. “We can anticipate we will see rivers going above flood stages as that flood crest makes its way downstream,” Kimbrough said. Hickenlooper said he had summoned help from the National Guard. The White House announced Thursday night that

The overflowing South St. Vrain River roars through Lyons on Thursday. Kenneth Wajda, Daily Camera President Barack Obama had declared an emergency in Boulder, El Paso and Larimer counties, so that money and resources can come to the state more quickly. Purely by the numbers, the storm’s might was staggering. Dozens of communities from Fremont County to Larimer County reported flooding, a swath of rain roughly equivalent to the distance between Baltimore and New York. For Boulder, which saw some of the worst flooding, Kimbrough said there was only a 1-in-100 chance that a storm of this magnitude would happen in a year — meaning the storm is a proverbial 100-year flood. Boulder Creek’s flow rate, measured at one point at 4,500 cubic feet per second, was more than twice as large as the previous peak flow recorded during the river gauge’s quarter-century history. Typically the river runs at between 100 and 300 cfs. With at least 10 inches of rain having fallen across the city since the storm began, Boulder’s 25 square miles were inundated with roughly 4.5 billion gallons of water. On the University of Colorado at Boulder campus, one quarter of all buildings had suffered some type of water damage, although much of it was minor, a school spokesman said.

Flash-flood warnings lit up Adams, Denver, Larimer, Boulder, Jefferson, Arapahoe, Douglas, El Paso, Lincoln, Cheyenne and Kit Carson counties Thursday night. The National Weather Service warned that any given storm cell was capable of dropping multiinch amounts in a few hours. “(A) major flooding/flashflooding event (is) underway at this time with biblical rainfall amounts reported in many areas,” the National Weather Service announced Thursday morning. State climatologist Nolan Doesken said the floods are not the worst Colorado has ever seen but they are unusual for being so widespread. A stubborn low-pressure system from the north and a persistent suction of moisture from the south have collided over the state, he said. The result is a perpetual loop of rain. Doesken said the storm is similar to one that occurred in September 1938, when flooding rampaged through Morrison, Eldorado Springs and parts of El Paso County — a storm The Denver Post at the time called “A moment’s madness of the skies.” “This is not unprecedented,” Doesken said. “It is simply not common.” The floods’ impact, though still unclear, was devastating.

One man, who neighbors identified as Joey Howlett, 72, was reported killed after a building collapsed in Jamestown, in the mountains above Boulder. Later, the body of a man family identified as Wesley Quinlan was found in north Boulder in the 200 block of Linden Drive. Officials said that man had been with a woman in a car that became stranded in the area. The woman is still missing. In Colorado Springs, emergency crews checking flooding conditions early Thursday discovered the body of a man in Fountain Creek, near Nevada Avenue and Las Vegas Street. The man was identified Thursday afternoon as Danny Davis, 54. “The event is far from over,” Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said at a morning news conference. “We know we’ve lost lives. As the day goes on, we may find we’ve lost others.” Only quick evacuations and moments of heroics prevented other deaths. Officials in Erie, Longmont and Loveland moved rapidly to evacuate residents in flood-prone areas. Emergency crews in Aurora, Commerce City, Denver and Jefferson County scrambled to rescue drivers stranded in floodwaters. Firefighters in Broomfield pulled two people out of cars that splashed into floodwaters when the section of Dillon Road that they were driving on crumbled beneath them. A third motorist was able to free himself from his vehicle. “I have people banging on the doors,” one of the first police officers on scene shouted into his police radio. “There’s one overturned. I’m hearing people banging. I can’t get down there right now.” North Metro Fire & Rescue firefighters used a raft to rescue the two, who suffered only minor injuries. Throughout the day, residents in the flood’s path looked on with disbelief as their neighborhoods turned suddenly threatening. Three Loveland police officers knocked on Julie Demaree’s door at 3 p.m. Thursday to deliver a

Online: Photos of the flooding and evacuations throughout Colorado. »

fairly short, blunt order: “You have 30 minutes, ... so get out.” Demaree and her boyfriend collected their things and their dog and headed toward a hotel near Interstate 25 and U.S. 34. As they left, they looked back on the sliver of the Big Thompson River that runs by Demaree’s condo. “I liked to walk on the little walking trail there, but now it’s completely flooded,” she said. “By the time we left, the water there had gone up 3 feet.” Conditions worsened throughout the day in Longmont, and, by late afternoon, the evacuation center at Silver Creek High School had registered 150 people. “We are having a hard time getting supplies,” said Steve Aubrey, a Boulder County Sheriff’s deputy. “We are checking with the National Guard to see if we can get cots for everyone tonight.” Many tried to stay upbeat. On Twitter, a man posted a picture of himself holding a fish he said he caught. The fish was swimming around the basketball hoop in his driveway. For Grant Hetherington and Jyssica Lasco, the flood washed away their plans to be married Friday at the Stone Mountain Lodge in Lyons. They had spent a year-and-ahalf planning the event. A half-day’s work on Thursday quickly switched the wedding to a venue in Loveland. “I cried a little, but I’m still marrying my best friend and the love of my life,” said Lasco, 24, “and we’re sending our thoughts out to those affected by the flooding.” As rain continued to fall into the night, officials said that was about all that could be done. Earlier in the day, Hickenlooper was asked whether the state had the resources to deal with the flooding. “It’s not that we haven’t had the equipment or the manpower,” Hickenlooper said. “It’s that the conditions haven’t permitted it.” Staff writers Suzanne Brown, Joey Bunch, Tom McGhee, Jeremy P. Meyer, Kirk Mitchell and Kieran Nicholson contributed to this report.

Front Range Flooding friday, september 13, 2013 B B the denverpost


Town fears for lost friend Jamestown residents mourn a missing neighbor; authorities ID Colo. Springs man. By Kirk Mitchell The Denver Post

Jamestown residents on Thursday worried about the welfare of a man missing after a roaring mudslide crushed his home. Joey Howlett, 72, former owner of the Jamestown Mercantile Cafe, was missing, and his bedroom was buried under 12 feet of rock, mud and debris, according to a half-dozen friends, neighbors and city officials. “We lost a good friend here last night,” said Richard Jenkins, who has known Howlett for 30 years. “He was like the town patriarch. He was everybody’s friend.” Officials said a man was killed in a collapsed house in Jamestown, but they have not identified him. Acquaintances identified the owner of the home as Howlett. The Jamestown casualty was one of three confirmed deaths blamed on the flooding along the Front Range. A woman in Boulder also was reported missing. Jenkins said it is far too dangerous yet to try to dig through the mud to look for any possible remains. “It’s still raining up here, and the ground is too unsettled,” he said. A roommate who paid rent to Howlett had to climb out of the front of the demolished home to escape. But there was no sign of Howlett. Howlett, formerly of Portland, Ore., moved to Jamestown in 1969. He bought the business known by locals as “The Merc” in 1992, according to a 2010 Boulder Daily Camera article when he sold his business. Friends said customers were as likely to park their bikes as cars in front of Howlett’s business. “He was one of the prime characters in town,” said John Bernart, 51, who has known Howlett since the mid-1990s. The cafe was noted for spaghetti nights and weekend live music performances by local musicians. “He really made it a focal point for the small community,” Bernart said of the cafe. “He was very welcoming.” After the Overland fire in 2003, which burned many homes in Jamestown, Howlett invited everyone in town, fewer than 300 people, to his restaurant for free food. Howlett sold the restaurant in 2010. Howlett would often set out 5-gallon containers of ice water along the road for streams of bicyclists who rode through the scenic village during the summer. In Colorado Springs, officials identified the body of a man who was found early Thursday as Danny Davis, 54. His body was found in the Fountain Creek area at about 4:20 a.m. The El Paso County coroner said Davis was originally from Texas. In Boulder, authorities said a man died early Thursday near Linden Drive, and a woman who was in the car with him is still missing. No identities have been released, but friends said they believed the victim was Wesley Quinlan, a recent graduate of Centaurus High School. His Facebook page had numerous messages of condolence. Wesley Quinlan is believed to have died in Boulder flooding.


“We lost a good friend here last night. He was like the town patriarch. He was everybody’s friend.” Richard Jenkins, on 72-year-old Joey Howlett

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the denverpost B B friday, september 13, 2013

Front Range Flooding «7A

A wall of water and mud wipes out a home in Jamestown, a community in the mountains of Boulder County devastated by the floods. Matthew Gurnsey, Special to The Denver Post

ISLANDS «FROM 1A had swallowed highways and roads into Jamestown and Lyons, isolating the communities hit hardest by the Colorado floods of 2013. “We have been preparing for this 100year flood, which is so overdue,” said Mary Huron Hunter, whose 110-year-old house in Lyons is two or three blocks from the water’s reach. “And here we are.” Rain continued to fall Thursday night in both communities; both Lyons and Jamestown remained under flash-flood warnings. Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock, her boyfriend and her 16-year-old daughter left their home two blocks from South St. Vrain Creek in Lyons after their across-the-street neighbor banged on the door at 2 a.m. Hitchcock wore blue striped pajamas. She was on crutches from a recent hip surgery. She left with a computer, an overnight bag and a 16-year-old border collie that grew up on a fishing boat in Alaska. On Thursday afternoon, from the vantage point of a friend’s house on higher ground bordering open space, Hitchcock could peer through the trees to see her house had suffered, at the least, serious damage. A trailer park two blocks away appeared completely lost, she said. Powers lines were down. The smell of gas was in the air. “This is unreal,” said Hitchcock, a public radio reporter. “So, I am looking down … I can see our roof. The water, it kind of looks like the chocolate river from ‘Willy Wonka.’ And it’s fast.” The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment advised residents to boil water for drinking and prepare to potentially be isolated for up to 72 hours. Xcel Energy cut off power to almost all of the town. The grounds of Planet Bluegrass, where folk and bluegrass musicians pick and play below red rock cliffs, were covered with water, said Brian Eyster, who does marketing for the organization. Planet Bluegrass’ president, who lives on the property, was evacuated, he said. Despite reports it had been wiped out, the St. Vrain Market survived the night but took on water, residents say. Owners Connie and Neil Sullivan turned the keys to the business over to those helping displaced residents in the 2,000-person town and said, “Take anything you need.” At Lyons Elementary School, a shelter for evacuees, people rested on gym mats and sipped herbal tea. Neighbors brought water, clothes, dog food, diapers and kids’ socks to replace soaked footwear. A town doctor scrambled to find needed medication. “Most people are saying the things you’d expect them to say — ‘At least we are safe, I’m glad we got out of there,’ ” said James Hart, an addictions counselor in Lyons. “People are OK now. But what is it going to look like in 48 hours if people can’t get in and out easily?” National Guard vehicles with supplies managed to get through flooded state Colo-

Alex Nuñez unloads the freezer in his room at the Silver Saddle Motel in Boulder after overnight rain flooded the room where he has lived with his wife, Felicia, and their 28-month-old son Michaelray for about nine months. Joe Amon, The Denver Post rado 66 into town, the water reaching up to the headlights. “This seems more like Armageddon than the storm of the century,” said Julia Herz, whose backyard looks onto an inundated water-treatment plant whose failure made drinking the town water unsafe. A 16-mile drive away in Jamestown, Jason Servetar was awoken early Thursday by a emergency notification call, followed by a call from the local school. The Internet was working, so he got online. On the Jamestown Quick Topic Bulletin Board, a community clearinghouse, messages about babysitters wanted for hire

and a 1991 Honda Civic for sale were overtaken by anxious questions and offers of shelter. 2:23 a.m.: Anyone know where Dee & Andy are? 3:13 a.m.: Just say the word, my Jimtown Family and we’ll be there picking people up and bringing them to safety at our house...when the roads open ... whatever is needed...we LOVE YOU!!! 9:40 a.m.: I am just Heart Broken ... The town of fewer than 300 residents was ordered to evacuate, but how? All roads leading in and out of Jamestown were washed out.

“You know what it’s like to be in a theater with surround sound, that deep rumbling?” said Servetar, 45, whose home was cut off from town by a mudslide three football fields long. “That is what we hear.” County officials communicated with Jamestown by radio. Neighbors on high ground brought dishes to about 50 evacuees at the school. The person who was killed is believed to be a 72-year-old man who until three years ago owned the town’s only store, the Jamestown Mercantile, said Mary Ellen Burch, the town clerk. Burch is also the school custodian and a volunteer firefighter. Eric Gorski: 303-954-1971, or Staff writer Kirk Mitchell contributed to this report.

Casey Roy, 9, looks through a window at the damage in her family’s basement in north Boulder. Floodwaters reached about 3 feet. RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post

Online: Get the latest weather forecast and warnings in your area. »

Staff writers Kristen Browning-Blas, Joey Bunch, Mitchell Byars, Anthony Cotton, Bruce Finley, Sadie Gurman, Carlos Illescas, John Ingold, Tom McGhee, Jeremy P. Meyer, David Migoya, Kirk Mitchell, Kieran Nicholson, David Olinger, Kristen Leigh Painter, Ryan Parker, Yesenia Robles, Kevin Simpson, Jordan Steffen and Monte Whaley contributed to our coverage.


Front Range Flooding friday, september 13, 2013 B B the denverpost



Six sites break; dozen overflowing The states highest-hazard structures, whose failures would probably drown people, performed well. By David Olinger and Bruce Finley The Denver Post

Record-shattering rainstorms across Coloradoâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Front Range led to flooding that blew out at least six dams Thursday, stranding a Larimer County family on the second floor of their home and breaching a federal stormwater holding pond northeast of Denver. The floods also overflowed a dozen dams in Boulder County, but no structural failures had been reported Thursday evening, according to Boulder city spokeswoman Sarah Huntley. Water flows in Boulder Creek reached 4,500 cubic feet per second, more than twice the previous peak flow in 26 years of measurement, according to the U.S. Geological Survey Colorado Water Science Center. Normal flow is 100 to 300 cfs. Bill McCormick, who heads the state Division of Water Resourcesâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; dam-safety branch, said late Thursday that Coloradoâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s highesthazard dams, whose failures would probably drown people, performed well. â&#x20AC;&#x153;(But) we have a few weak spots weâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re tracking,â&#x20AC;? he said. Among them is Baseline Reservoir, a highhazard dam in Boulder County. He expressed confidence that the dam will survive record-setting days of rain. Many less-hazardous dams were designed to withstand a 100-year rainfall, however, â&#x20AC;&#x153;And the rainfall weâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve had is exceeding the design of those dams,â&#x20AC;? McCormick said.

Stormwaters channeling out of northeast Denver neighborhoods caused the rupture of the Havana Ponds dam inside Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge. Bruce Finley, The Denver Post He urged people to be alert for damage to the hundreds, possibly thousands, of small earthen dams dotting the Colorado landscape, many of them too small to qualify for state safety inspections. In Larimer County, five small dams in the Big Elk Meadows area failed, trapping a family up a washed-out county road, said John Schulz, a spokesman for the Larimer County Sheriffâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Office. When a county emergency services worker hiked in to check on the family Thursday, he saw a wall of water smash through the homeâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s front door and flood the first floor. The family of three and their dog huddled on the second floor and waited to be rescued.

The worker left a communications radio with the family to maintain contact. As of Thursday afternoon, efforts to rescue the family had stalled. County Road 47, off the highway between Lyons and Estes Park, is washed out, preventing vehicles from reaching them. Surging stormwaters channeling out of northeast Denver neighborhoods caused the rupture of the Havana Ponds dam inside Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge, located just northeast of Denver. The dam broke around 10 a.m. as overflowing water ripped out several concrete slabs. The currents carved an 8-footdeep gully through the refuge and

washed across roadways. Refuge managers raced to a series of other stormwater holding ponds and opened valves to relieve pressure. By evening, the Irondale neighborhood at the northwest edge of the refuge was evacuated because the massive amounts of water retained on the refuge could no longer be contained by an earthen embankment distant from the Havana Ponds. â&#x20AC;&#x153;The system is well-designed. Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s just that this particular event is more than anything itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s designed for,â&#x20AC;? refuge manager Dave Lucas said at the scene. State dam-safety inspectors fanned out Thursday to check conditions on larger dams where

failures could be deadly. Dam-safety engineer Ryan Schoolmeesters worked his way north from Denver, checking dams along Boulder Creek, Clear Creek and Bear Creek. So far, â&#x20AC;&#x153;the dams seem to be in good condition,â&#x20AC;? he said in Arvada. â&#x20AC;&#x153;A few of the spillways have activated, which is what theyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re designed for.â&#x20AC;? As a result, â&#x20AC;&#x153;residents could see some high spillway flowâ&#x20AC;? downstream, he said, causing â&#x20AC;&#x153;road flooding, water in yards.â&#x20AC;? In Colorado, which has dammed nearly all of its rivers, hundreds of dams have become structurally deficient and in need of repairs. According to a Division of Water Resources report for the year ending in October 2010, 359 dams are classified as high-hazard, meaning that their failure would probably kill people. The state has dealt with deficiencies in these and other dams by limiting the amount of water theyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re permitted to hold. â&#x20AC;&#x153;There are a total of 176 dams restricted from full storage,â&#x20AC;? the state report read, â&#x20AC;&#x153;due to inadequate spillways and various structural deficiencies such as significant leakage, cracking and sliding of embankments.â&#x20AC;? The state has made some progress since. As of October, 157 dams â&#x20AC;&#x153;remained on the dam-safety restricted-storage list,â&#x20AC;? the divisionâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s latest report says. Those are just the larger dams. Earthen dams less than 10 feet high or capable of holding less than 100 acre-feet of water are classified as nonjurisdictional and not inspected, Schoolmeesters said. Four of the five Big Elk Meadows dams were classed as too small to inspect. All five failed.


Rain to taper oâ&#x2030; , then slowly exit A chance of showers remains through the weekend as stubborn system moves east. By Tom McGhee The Denver Post

The deluge that saturated the ground, dumping more than half as much rain in some Front Range communities as normally falls in a year, is the result of a stubborn weather pattern that isnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t expected to loosen its grip until next week. The storm swelled creeks and rivers, killed three and closed roads throughout the region. The record-breaking rain produced a 100-year flood, defined as a flood that has only a 1 percent chance of occurring in any given year, said Mike Nelson, chief meteorologist for 7News. The storm pounded some areas with more than onehalf the regionâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s yearly average rainfall of 15 inches, meteorologists said. Nelson said the storm brings to mind a 1965 deluge that flooded downtown and led to the building of Chatfield Dam. Had the soggy fury that broke loose Wednesday and continued through Thursday been snow, said Nelson,

residents would be digging out from as much as 12 feet of the white stuff today. The rain is expected to begin making its way east and out of the region on Friday but will continue through the weekend. â&#x20AC;&#x153;We should start seeing some drying out Friday night and over the weekend, but we still have a chance of showers,â&#x20AC;? said Byron Louis, program manager with the National Weather Service in Boulder. Friday is expected to be mostly cloudy, with a 50 percent chance of rain. Things are expected to clear a little Saturday, when the chance of rain drops to 30 percent. But Sunday, there will be a 60 percent chance of thunderstorms and showers, Louis said. The storm is the result of moisture that traveled north from above the equator and on Monday met a cold front headed down from Canada, Nelson said. â&#x20AC;&#x153;This is 2,000 miles of weather that is coming from both ends and colliding over Denver.â&#x20AC;? Unlike similar weather patterns that leave quickly, this one settled in to stay.



Cherry Creek Schools B Coal Creek Canyon K8; no bus service for students who live in the Coal Creek Canyon area to Ralston Valley High School B All schools in Estes Park B All Loveland schools; activities and events are canceled. B Weld County School District Re-8



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Residents leave their homes near East 72nd Avenue and Holly Street in Commerce City after an evacuation order. Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post

“Great team e≠ort” frees two from cars By Tom McGhee The Denver Post

Lt. Rob Williams saw three vehicles in the rushing waters of Rock Creek when his North Metro Fire & Rescue crew arrived after a section of Dillon Road in Broomfield collapsed in torrential rain early Thursday. One car was overturned, and the roaring creek was buffeting the vehicles. One man was able to climb through the window of his pickup truck and get to safety, leaving the lone occupant in each of the two other vehicles trapped. Emergency workers could hear cries for help coming from the partially submerged car. They decided to make that rescue first. “We hoped someone was alive in the second vehicle, but realized that he had been underwater for quite a

while,” Williams said. They lowered a two-man rescue raft into the creek, and Williams and North Metro firefighter Brian Gaines climbed in. They reached the car, broke out a window, helped him climb out and gave him a life jacket, said Williams. “When he came out and saw the other vehicle, he said, ‘My friend is in there. I’m not sure who else is in there,’ ” Williams said. The rescuers took the man to safety and lowered the boat back into the water. Williams, who has whitewater experience, and another firefighter, John Cook, made their way to the overturned car. Williams climbed on top. He could hear tapping coming from within, and the faint sound of a voice. “I think he was standing on the roof and breathing in an

air pocket,” he said. The firefighters hooked cables that stretched from a tow truck onto the car and winched the vehicle onto its side. Williams broke the window and handed the frightened occupant a life jacket. He could see that the man was tired and too large to escape through the window, Williams said. So he reached in and unlocked the door. Rushing water was rocking the vehicle and the cable holding it was shifting, so rescuers on the shore winched it into a standing position. Williams and Cook pulled the man out. Other rescuers were able to reach the man and carry him up the embankment, Williams said. “It was a great feeling,” he said. “It was a great team effort.”


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For farmers, deluge is a mixed blessing By Kevin Simpson The Denver Post

Chris Wagner has never seen rain like this on his farm east of Longmont — 5½ inches since Monday afternoon — but on balance, he figures it’s a boon to the area’s drought-choked agriculture. “As far as crops and fields go, for the most part it’s a blessing,” Wagner said. “But you hate to get caught up on yearly rainfall totals in a couple of days. You’d rather have it spread out over the year.” The winter wheat harvest is already in, so now it’s just a question of how long the moisture might delay fall planting. If the delays run past the middle of October, that could lead to a reduction in the yield next spring. “But if a guy can get in a couple, three weeks from now and plant wheat,” Wagner said, “we’ll be in good shape.” As for crops still in the field and nearly ready to be

harvested, delays or spoilage due to high waters could take a toll — if the deluge doesn’t subside. “But we’re not there yet,” Wagner said. “There’s a little bit of damage to crops and farm ground, but right now, it’s minimal.” Some farmers in Boulder County said their fields were submerged and worried that if things don’t dry out in a couple of days, they could find themselves in trouble, according to the Daily Camera. Closure of farmers markets amid the floodwaters also has put a dent in sales. Statewide, any moisture is a good thing in the wake of such chronic drought conditions, said Glenda Mostek of the Colorado Association of Wheat Growers. “At this point, if they had to replant, they’re so happy to have the rain that it doesn’t matter,” she said. “The moisture counterbalances any damage it might do. Overwhelmingly, the

balance is beneficial here.” In Weld County, the storm damage came mostly in the southern sector around Fort Lupton that saw as much as 5 to 7 inches of rain, according to reports. Keith Maxey, director of Colorado State University’s Weld County extension office, said some fields flooded and some dairy cattle drowned as several feet of water gathered in low lying fields. “It’s certainly put a stop to any harvest that is going on,” he said. “Depending on how long this weather keeps up and how long that water stays in the fields, it could decrease the quality, as well as the quantity of what is harvested off those areas.” He said crops that have been affected include corn, sugar beets and some vegetables including onions.

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the denverpost B B friday, september 13, 2013

Front Range Flooding «13A


Map your plan for seeking shelter Help is available for those displaced by floods, but a few key items can add comfort. By William Porter The Denver Post

In the wake of torrential rainstorms that have raked the Front Range, flood victims can draw some comfort in knowing there are organizations offering help. Along with opening a number of temporary shelters in Boulder, Larimer and Adams counties, the American Red Cross in Colorado is collecting donations to underwrite relief efforts. “The best way to help out is with cash donations,” said Patricia Billinger, communications director for the Red Cross in Colorado and Wyoming. “With the way the roads are, material donations are not the way to go. We want to keep people off the roads.” Even a little bit helps. A $2 donation will pay for a snack, $2.50 underwrites a hygiene kit distributed to evacuees, while $10 will pay for a hot meal and a couple of blankets, Billinger said. She also stressed that people who must head to a

shelter can make their stay more comfortable by bringing a few key items from home. “Just bringing your own pillow can provide an extra level of comfort,” Billinger said, adding that the Red Cross ( denver) provides cots and blankets at shelters. “And since shelters are noisy, you might consider bringing noise-damping headphones or simple earplugs.” Most important, evacuees need to bring — if possible — critical items such as prescription medications, plus key documents concerning financial and insurance information. Cellphone chargers are also important — and reason to have key phone numbers written down and placed in your wallet, or memorized. “Disasters like this are also a good argument for saving information on a computer disk, or better yet, the cloud, since with the latter you can access it from wherever you are,” Billinger said. If you are in a place that hasn’t been evacuated but might be, Billinger urges people to put together an escape plan. “Try to figure out two dif-

ferent evacuation routes, and also figure out how you and loved ones will meet up if one has to leave the home while the other is at work,” she said.

A battery-operated weather radio is also useful. “If you’re relying on TV for your information and the power goes out, you have no way of knowing if

you’re in danger,” Billinger said. The Intermountain Salvation Army also is working on flood-relief efforts. Their donation website is William Porter: 303-9541877, or

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Boulder has most policies in state By David Migoya The Denver Post

The shock of floodwaters inundating Boulder-area communities is only the first wave. The second is the post-disaster realization that insurance policies might not cover the damage. The good news is that Boulder has the highest number of homeowners with flood-insurance polices — 3,504 — of any community in the state, according to the National Flood Insurance Program, an arm of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which handles the bulk of the policies. But with roughly 20,000 households in the city that are detached single-family homes, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the shock of no coverage appears imminent for many. “That little babbling creek can turn into a raging river in no time, as we’re seeing in Boulder,” said Carole Walker, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association. “Understanding your coverage and its limits before you need it is very important.” The extent of flood damage to homes and businesses from the current torrent of rainfall remains unclear, according to insurance companies, but just because homeowners have a policy in place doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be completely

How to deal with water damage B Have an annual insurance checkup with your agent to ensure coverage. B Keep policies stored in a high and accessible place such as an upper floor or a shelf off the floor. B Assess damage to the property, and call an agent immediately. B Make temporary repairs but only if it is structurally safe. B Keep receipts for all expenditures that might be covered. B Check the National Flood Insurance Program website at for additional information. B Do not stand in floodwater without adequate protection: It can conduct electricity or contain harmful bacteria.

covered. In fact, no standard flood policy offered today will pay for the damage of personal contents in a basement, Walker said, but items such as circuit breakers, furnaces and water heaters are covered.

For those with finished basements or items kept there for storage, the shock can be very real. Additional policies can be purchased for basement items such as washers and dryers, freezers and the food kept inside. But a home-theater system in a basement? “There really isn’t any coverage out there for it from flood damage,” Walker said. “But Lloyd’s of London does offer a broad policy offering catastrophic coverage, but it’s not federally backed, and homeowners need to investigate those costs and assess the risk.” Most homeowner policies cover damage from a storm that is not flood-related, such as a hole punched through a roof from a fallen branch, hail damage or lightning. But if the gutter overflows and water gets inside, that’s surface-water damage whose coverage is limited to the flood policy. And a flood policy must be in place 30 days before coverage begins. “Homes damaged by the storm, such as the roof or heavy water tearing a gutter from the structure, that’s usually covered on the homeowner policy,” said Angela Thorpe, spokeswoman for State Farm. David Migoya: 303-954-1506, or


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Colorado Floods: Sept. 13, 2013  

Sept. 13, 2013 print edition of The Denver Post

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