6:05am

Sat September 14, 2013
Colorado Flood

Flooding Aftermath Brings Recovery Across The Front Range

For a second day flood waters, goaded by heavy rains, impacted large swaths of the Front Range. When skies finally broke, many were stranded, hundreds were in need of rescue and four lives were lost statewide.

Editor's Note: What started with rainstorms late night Wednesday Sept. 11 quickly escalated to a state wide flood event as water topped or compromised dams, raised normally docile streams, and caused untold property damage. This post collects our updates from events Saturday, Sept. 14.

Major updates were placed at the top of this post as they came in. Ongoing developments, photos and links, were updated to a Storify which is embedded below.

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Update 2:15 p.m. - via the Larimer Sheriff on Twitter:

Update 1:00 p.m. – Latest from Weld County via Grace Hood:

With more rain expected Saturday night, Weld County officials urged caution Saturday morning for residents along the swelling South Platte River.

“We’ve never seen rainfalls like this,” said Commissioner Sean Conway. He called the flood a 500 to 1,000 year event for the area.

Conway says water flowing out of the mountains into the Firestone, Dacono and Frederick area has equaled about 1 trillion gallons in last three days.

Along the Eastern Plains, the river has flooded agricultural fields, and compromised one oil pipeline near Fort Lupton.

Weld County Emergency Management Director Roy Rudisill says as of yet no oil has spilled into the flood waters from that pipeline.

“The oil company got out there and they got the line shut off,” said Rudisill.

Oil and gas companies had prepared for the flooding, shutting off lines and equipment several days ago Rudisill said.

Road closures around Greeley. This map was displayed at the Saturday news conference, Sept. 14.
Credit Grace Hood / KUNC

With more rain expected on the way Saturday night and Sunday morning, Conway is urging Weld County residents to keep on top of flood warnings and take them seriously.

“What I would encourage people to do over this next lull period over the next 12 hours, put together a to-go bag,” said Conway. “When an emergency happens, people get panicked.”

Update 12:30 p.m. – This is probably the most interesting video we’ve seen of aerial footage from the flood. It was filmed from a remote control airplane, a civilian version of a drone if you will.

It takes about 30 seconds for it to get going, but the takeoff is fascinating. Volume warning: turn your speakers down as the plane’s engine is quite loud.

The video shows the area outside of Longmont around I-25 and Del Camino Friday. YouTube user Neutography posted the video and 3 others in a series.

Update 11:30 a.m. – Latest from Larimer County via Luke Runyon:

A 60-year-old woman is missing and presumed dead after flood waters destroyed her home at the base of Big Thompson Canyon, an area that experienced heavy flooding early Friday morning.

Aerial surveys of the canyon confirm that numerous homes were destroyed or sustained serious damage.

“Some witnesses were on scene and saw her in the river and attempted to rescue her but were unable to do so,” said Nick Christensen, spokesman for the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office.

“We are assuming based on the magnitude of the damage, especially in the Big Thompson corridor, that there are highly likely other fatalities and injuries, certainly,” Christensen said. “We hope that number is a small number, but it’s certainly concerning.”

The Larimer County Sheriff’s office has assembled a team of investigators to establish how many people remain missing or have been confirmed dead.

"We are assuming based on the magnitude of the damage, especially in the Big Thompson corridor, that there are highly likely other fatalities and injuries."

Thousands of Larimer County residents are still trapped in portions of the foothills. In the Pinewood Springs area, about 1,200 people are stranded, another 120 people in the Big Elk Meadows section of Big Thompson Canyon. Some stranded residents are beginning to run low on food, water and fuel, Christensen said.

Air support is scheduled to begin dropping supplies to those trapped Saturday.

The town of Estes Park is still essentially cut off from road travel, with the exception of Trail Ridge Road through Rocky Mountain National Park, which is only being used for emergency travel. There is a possibility phone service will be restored to some Estes Park residents later Saturday.

Update 11:05 a.m. - The state of Colorado has posted a few lists of resources as recovery efforts start to get underway.

Update 10:25 a.m. – Latest from Boulder County via Nathan Heffel:

Rescue and recovery efforts will continue in earnest Saturday. Helicopters continue to reach isolated communities and residents that need basic necessities like food and water.

Type 2 Federal Incident Commander Dan Dallas is now overseeing operations in the county. He said while the military aircraft will focus on search and rescue, civilian air craft will also be overhead.

“Roads have been flooded out and they’re not passable,” said Dallas. “So we’re working to get some reconnaissance flights going.”

There could be as many as 15 aircraft in the sky by the end of the day and Dallas says he anticipates good flying weather for most of Saturday. 400 people are working the search and rescue mission. With new orders being sent, that number could double soon.

Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said flooding has impacted areas countywide keeping rescue equipment away from people in the more mountainous areas.

“It’s affected every drainage and road in the county that goes west,” said Pelle. “It’s a sinking feeling when you realize if someone in the peak to peak area calls 911, we are not going to be able to help. That’s a very difficult position for a Sheriff as a government official to be in.”

Over 150 residents were evacuated from Jamestown Friday. While many chose to leave, approximately 50 wanted to stay. A Boulder County Sheriffs Mountain Deputy will be there in an attempt to explain to those that remain that Saturday's evacuation effort may be the last for the next day or more.

“We’re not going to force anyone from their homes,” said Pelle, “but we’re trying to be very factual and definitive about the consequences of their decisions and we hope that they’ll come down."

The University of Colorado in Boulder is slowly accessing the damage done to buildings on campus, and the school remains shut down Saturday with officials looking to reevaluate the closure Sunday.

Boulder officials stress the need for non-residents and visitors to Boulder to stay out of the city and out of the mountains. All open space in Boulder remains closed and people are advised not to visit at this time.

Update 10:00 a.m. – Lots of photography has been pouring into social networks since the weather broke Friday. The images have been helped define the scope of the flooding up and down the Front Range.

There’s also the hard numbers. The Denver Post has collected a by-the-numbers look at the floods, providing factoids like:

The water weight during Boulder Creek's peak flow was the equivalent of a locomotive every second.

Flood stage in the Big Thompson River is 6 feet. Water in the Big Thompson crested at 10.55 feet at 6:30 a.m. Friday. That's more than the 9.31-foot peak in the 1976 flood that killed 144 people.

Read more at The Post.

Update 9:39 a.m. – Jefferson County has posted their morning update. Coal Creek Canyon and Bear Creek Canyon have been heavily affected by the floods. They are warning that more rain is in the forecast and the ground is saturated. Any new rain will lead to more flooding and even slides.

Additionally, JeffCo says that there will be blasting throughout the day in Golden Gate Canyon.

More information and local road closures are posted here.

Update 9:22 a.m. - Several news conferences are either underway, or starting soon, in Boulder, Fort Collins and in Greeley. We're expecting updates from each from Grace Hood, Nathan Heffel and Luke Runyon.

Update 9:06 a.m. - via the Colorado National Guard on Twitter:

Update 8:40 a.m. – via Nathan Heffel

The Boulder Office of Emergency Management says crews are ready to begin rescue efforts in the counties mountainous areas.

“We’re actually looking forward to daybreak when our crews can get out on the road and kind of continue our efforts to get to our residents in some of the areas that have been cut off,” said Ben Pennymon with the Boulder OEM.

“Later this afternoon there’s a chance for some additional rain in the mountains which could impact the foothills area again in Boulder County,” said Pennymon. “We are doing our best to provide support to our residents and will continue to do that rain or shine of course, but having this reprieve is helpful.”

Meanwhile, the city of Boulder is still assessing the damage from this week’s flooding. Officials are reporting  a significant breach of the city’s main wastewater pipe. The pipe carries approximately 90 percent of Boulder's untreated water.

Pennymon says that the breach isn’t impacting any drinking water, but that it is “currently just kind of flowing out and flowing into the creek.”

Boulder officials have notified federal, state and local authorities and are working for on a temporary bypass for the 300 foot breach. The city is processing about 10 percent of the city’s wastewater through a second pipeline.

Update 8:25 a.m. – An update to the number of unaccounted for that we mentioned earlier: The Denver Post is reporting that the number has increased to 218 people from Saturday morning’s initial number of 181.

Update 8:10 a.m. – The National Weather Service has issued a flood warning for the following areas:

  • Western Weld County
  • Northeastern Park County
  • Jefferson County
  • Larimer County
  • Eastern Clear Creek County
  • Broomfield County
  • Gilpin County
  • Boulder County

The warning will remain in effect until 7:45 p.m. Saturday. The NWS says flooding continues across the state with widespread closures – some roads and bridges have been washed out. Showers and thunderstorms are possible Saturday afternoon over flooded areas, causing renewed flooding.

Residents in low lying areas are to remain aware of the situation and prepared to evacuate if necessary.

Update 7:50 a.m. - Another reminder that flooding has been widespread - north of Fort Collins all the way south to Colorado Springs - the city of Firestone has posted a photo gallery of their flooding. Compromised river banks, washed away roads and submerged fields are going to be a common site across the state.

Update 7:30 a.m.9News asked a simple question that has an unfortunate answer for the eastern plains city of Greeley: “where is all the water going to go?"

Bob Kimbrough with U.S. Geological Survey said all the flood water is pouring into the the St. Vrain Creek river basin, the Big Thompson river basin, and the Cache La Poudre river basin. All three rivers drain into the South Platte River, he said.

"It's going to be the highest in the areas east of Greeley," Kimbrough explained.

The city of Greeley issued a voluntary evacuation Friday afternoon for people in the floodway and the 100-year floodplain. High waters closed roads and the flooding was pretty dramatic on the east side of the city and in Evans.

East Greeley near the Platte River, Friday Sept. 13.
Credit Forrest Swick / used with permission

The Greeley Tribune writes that floods moved hundreds in Greeley and Evans, many areas were damaged. “The farther east, the worse it is,” Steven Reams, the Weld County Sheriff’s Office bureau chief told The Tribune.

City officials are battling rumors that the city’s water needs to be boiled. Greeley Water continues to state that the water is NOT contaminated and there is no boil order.

Our original post continues:

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Recovery and relief is the order of the day now as weary communities dry out and begin to assess the need for repairs.

The Colorado National Guard continues to provide assistance and they will be getting some help. Troops out of Fort Carson will be mobilizing and a dual-status commander has been approved by the Secretary of Defense to direct the activities of active and reserve personnel. This assistance comes at the request of Governor Hickenlooper.

The request for a dual-status commander is similar to previous agreements for wildfire assistance with the High Park, Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires according to a press release.

Immediate duties will include security and military equipment for evacuations. Trucks and helicopters from the National Guard worked to evacuate the cut off town of Lyons Friday; The Denver Post says more that 550 people got out.

Boulder

Having seen the brunt of flooding so far, Boulder got its first look at the effects of the water Friday. As we previously reported, the initial assessment was 80 unaccounted for in the county. The Daily Camera is reporting that the number is now 181.

Of the four deaths state wide, three of them were in Boulder County. A man in Jamestown died in a structure collapse and a teen couple was swept up in the water near Linden Drive in Boulder.

The campus of the University of Colorado remains closed Saturday, however evacuations have been lifted. The university also postponed their planned football game against Fresno State, only the third time in history they’ve done that.

Northern Colorado

Heading into Friday, overnight rain swelled rivers that eventually split three Northern Colorado cities in two. The St. Vrain in Longmont, the Big Thompson in Loveland and the Cache La Poudre in Fort Collins all surpassed their banks surround homes, covering trails and cutting off roads and travel.

The city of Fort Collins took the step to declare the city closed due to the heavy flooding. Colorado State University closed their campus as well.

All of that water has to go somewhere, eventually pushing east away from the foothills the flooding swamped sections of Interstate 25. Colorado transportation officials were forced to close off a staggering 70 mile section of the interstate, from Highway 7 just outside of Metro Denver to the Wyoming border.

Blue skies finally broke by mid-day Friday leading to a flurry of activity from safety officials. Previously available, but grounded by the cloud ceiling, National Guard helicopters sprung into the air for rescue and relief operations. Other aircraft carried city, county and law enforcement officials for their first real measure of the scale of the floodwater’s fury.

Media helicopters were also able to fly as well, netting pictures and TV news footage.

The city of Fort Collins posted this trip of their survey of Poudre canyon and the surrounding area.

Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith had said he was “pleasantly surprised” with the condition of the Poudre Canyon, the Big Thompson was another matter. Large amounts of water were released from Olympus Dam upstream in order to control water levels at Lake Estes. The released contributed to the flooding of the Big Thompson, damaging lengthy sections of Highway 34 in the canyon.

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