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Mudslides Now Beset Colorado

Weather: Hundreds are stranded in fire-scarred southwest part of state. More rain is forecast.

September 12, 2002|From Associated Press

DENVER — Heavy rains sent trees, boulders and rivers of mud rushing across charred hillsides Wednesday in southwestern Colorado, isolating hundreds of residents in their homes for the second time in less than a week.

No one was in immediate danger, but roads near Durango were blocked by debris 10 feet high and boulders weighing several tons apiece, La Plata County Sheriff's Lt. Dan Bender said.

"What used to be a pine forest next to an upscale home is now a gaping hole and a boulder field," Bender said.

As much as 3 inches of rain had fallen in the area since Tuesday afternoon.

More rain was forecast, and authorities were bracing for additional mudslides.

There were no reports of mud moving into homes but several driveways were buried under boulders and gouges were cut across several properties as the mudslides changed the course of creeks, Bender said.

Mudslides hit the same area Saturday. At least five families had to leave their homes because of the damage, and 12 more families had heavy debris inside their homes.

The landscape, left barren by the 70,485-acre Missionary Ridge wildfire in June, is especially susceptible to mudslides because there is little vegetation to hold the soil in place.

Residents say the mudslides are one more nightmare in a summer marked by disaster.

"We call it the summer of hell," said Shirley Andersen, who has lived in the Durango area 36 years. "This is the worst."

Andersen said there were mudslides Wednesday on both sides of her house along County Road 250, but her home was spared.

"We were up all night. It rained real hard all night and I could hear the plows and stuff trying to clean up the mud," she said.

Bender said the area about nine miles north of Durango along County Road 250 was the hardest hit, though mudslides also forced road closures in the Vallecito area several miles away.

Heavy-equipment crews cleared debris from roads and used it to build makeshift dikes and culverts to try to steer additional debris away from homes.

Bender said residents were told to remain on alert for possible evacuations, as they have been for most of the summer.

Residents may see problems for as long as three years, Bender said, until vegetation grows back.

The land will be marked for years, Bender said. "The debris that was scattered Saturday and today will be here for decades."

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