Front Range flooding cleanups, rescues continue
Ed Andrieski/Associated Press
ESTES PARK – Colorado mountain towns cut off for days by massive flooding slowly reopened to reveal cabins toppled, homes ripped from their foundations and everything covered in a thick layer of muck. Anxious home and business owners cleaned and cleared out what they could salvage as the weather cleared Monday, Sept. 16, to resume airlifting those still stranded.
Crews plowed up to a foot of mud left standing along Estes Park’s main street after the river coursed through the heart of town late last week.
“I hope I have enough flood insurance,” said Amy Hamrick, whose friends helped her pull up flooring and clear water and mud from the crawl space at her coffee shop. Her inventory was safely stashed at her home on higher grounds, she said.
Emergency officials offered a first glimpse at the scope of the damage. Counties reported some 1,500 homes have been destroyed and about 17,500 damaged, according to an initial estimate released Sunday, Sept. 15, by the Colorado Office of Emergency Management.
The number of people still unaccounted for was dropping Monday as Larimer County officials said they had made contact with hundreds of people previously not heard from in flooded areas.
With rescuers reaching more pockets of stranded residents and phone service being restored in some areas, officials expect those numbers to continue to decrease.
The death toll remained at four confirmed fatalities and two missing and presumed dead.
Helicopter searches and airlifts resumed Monday, Sept. 16, as the sun broke through the clouds over the mountains. Rainy weather had kept the helicopters grounded most Sunday, Sept. 15.
Military helicopters rescued 12 people before the rain, and 80 more people were evacuated by ground on Sunday, Sept. 15, Colorado National Guard Lt. James Goff said.
In Estes Park, comparisons were drawn to two historic and disastrous flash floods: the Big Thompson Canyon Flood of 1976 that killed 145 people, and the Lawn Lake flood of 1982 that killed three.
“Take those times 10. That’s what it looks like in the canyon,” said Deyn Johnson, owner of the Whispering Pines cottages, three of which floated down the river after massive amounts of water were released from the town’s dam.
Estes Park town administrator Frank Lancaster said this flood is worse than the previous ones because of the sustained rains and widespread damage to infrastructure across the Rocky Mountain Foothills.
Major road were washed away, small towns like Glen Haven were reduced to debris, and key infrastructure like gas lines and sewers systems were destroyed. That means hundreds of homes in Estes Park alone could be unreachable and uninhabitable for up to a year.
But there appears to be no loss of life in this gateway community to Rocky Mountain National Park, Lancaster said.
“We know there are a lot of people trapped, but they are trapped alive,” Lancaster told people gathered at a Red Cross evacuation shelter Sunday, Sept. 15.