Flooding cuts off Colorado towns; 3 die in 'walls of water'
By The Associated Press
Published: Thursday, Sept. 12, 2013, 9:15 p.m.
LYONS, Colo. — Heavy rain sent walls of water crashing down mountainsides on Thursday in Colorado, cutting off remote towns, forcing the state's largest university to close and leaving at least three people dead across a rugged landscape that included areas blackened by recent wildfires.
After a rainy week, up to 8 more inches fell in an area spanning from the Wyoming border south to the foothills west of Denver. Flooding extended all along the Front Range mountains and into some cities, including Colorado Springs, Denver, Fort Collins, Greeley, Aurora and Boulder.
Numerous roads and highways were washed out or made impassable by floods. Floodwaters poured into homes, and at least a few buildings collapsed in the torrent.
Boulder County appeared to be hardest hit. Sheriff Joe Pelle said the town of Lyons was completely cut off because of flooded roads, and residents were huddling together on higher ground. Although everyone was believed to be safe, the deluge was expected to continue into Friday.
“It is not an ordinary disaster,” Pelle said. “All the preparation in the world ... it can't put people up those canyons while these walls of water are coming down.”
Jason Stillman, 37, said he and his fiance were forced to evacuate their home in Lyons at 3 a.m. because a nearby river began to overflow into the street.
Stillman, who is staying at a friend's house on higher ground, went back to his neighborhood in the afternoon and saw how fast-moving water had overturned cars and swept away homes at a nearby trailer park.
“From what I could tell, my house is sitting in Class 3 rapids” he said. When he returns, “it's going to be a sobering experience.”
By mid-afternoon, some high-clearance vehicles were on their way to the town, where the Red Cross said about 200 people sought shelter in an elementary school. National Guard rescue helicopters were grounded by fog and low visibility.
To the north, residents along the Big Thompson Canyon in Larimer County, scene of the deadliest flash flood in state history, were evacuated. The Big Thompson River flooded in 1976 as about a foot of rain fell in just four hours, killing 144 people.
Water roaring across U.S. Highway 36 south of Lyons prevented residents from leaving the Crestview subdivision, so Howard Wachtel arranged for someone to meet him at a roadblock for a ride to a gas station. He needed more gasoline to keep his generator running so he could pump water out of his basement.
Firefighters performed a daring rescue of two men trapped in vehicles in Rock Creek, east of Boulder. When rushing water collapsed a section of road, rescuers used a raft to reach the men, broke the car windows and lifted them to safety.
At the University of Colorado, about 400 students in a dorm were evacuated, and administrators canceled classes at least through Friday. About a quarter of the school's buildings have some kind of water damage.
One person was killed when a structure collapsed in the tiny town of Jamestown northwest of Boulder. Another person drowned in northern Boulder, authorities said.
To the south, Colorado Springs police conducting flood patrols found the body of 54-year-old Danny Davis in Fountain Creek on the west side of the city.
Weather service meteorologist Bob Kleyla said a 20-foot wall of water was reported in Left Hand Canyon north of Boulder, and a firefighter radioed he was trapped in a tree. He said rescuers were trying to get through, but were blocked by debris.
At least one earthen dam gave way southeast of Estes Park, the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. Water levels could rise downstream as authorities release more water to ease pressure on dams. With debris piling up near bridges, downstream farming areas including Fort Lupton, Dacono and Plateville were at risk.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- White House flops: Obama knew uncle
- Illinois overhauls its public pensions, cutting benefits for most workers, retirees
- Georgia cops suspended for cussing out rowdy bus of schoolkids
- Snowy owls travel south
- VA fears budget cuts will reverse drop in homelessness
- FBI: Russian diplomats lied to get U.S. benefits
- Budget plans remain in jeopardy
- American students’ skills lag on international test
- Average student loan debt at $30K precipice
- Wash. woman tweets of crash death, finds out it’s husband
- Bratton returns to lead New York City police force