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Colorado mudslide leaves one dead, three missing

Manitou Springs is recovering from the fourth flood to ravage the town since the Waldo Canyon fire last year.

August 10, 2013|By Benjamin Mueller
  • A truck is left crushing a car after a flash flood in Manitou Springs, Colo. Rescuers were combing roads and mountainsides in search of two missing men and one woman.
A truck is left crushing a car after a flash flood in Manitou Springs, Colo.… (Michael Ciaglo / Colorado…)

In a historic Colorado town famed for its mineral springs and proximity to Pikes Peak, residents were assessing their losses and cleaning up Saturday after the fourth flood to ravage their town in a year — a powerful stream of water and mud that killed one man and left three people missing.

Manitou Springs Police Chief Joe Ribeiro said at a news conference that rescuers were combing roads and mountainsides in search of three people: Juston Travis, 24; another man identified by neighbors only as Steve; and a petite, blond woman who was spotted trying to escape floodwaters in a tree.

"She was seen near the creek at one moment hanging in a tree and then not seen the next," Ribeiro said.

The one confirmed victim was John Collins, 53, of Teller County. His body was recovered Friday night from under "significant amounts of debris" near his car on U.S. Highway 24 in Manitou Springs, the El Paso County Sheriff's Office said in a statement. It was unclear whether he got out of his car on his own or whether floodwaters threw him from the vehicle.

Manitou Springs, which is located at the foot of 14,000-foot Pikes Peak and has long drawn visitors to its mineral springs, has been hit by four floods that residents trace to the Waldo Canyon fire of June 2012. The fire — which destroyed 347 homes, killed two people and burned more than 18,000 acres — stripped the soil of vegetation and gave floodwaters a clear path through town.

Sally Thurston, 65, built a bed and breakfast called Blue Skies Inn next to a creek in Manitou Springs 17 years ago.

"When I bought the property, I thought it was so fabulous that I had a lovely stream running through it," Thurston said by phone. "Now I realize the danger that comes with that."

Six inches of mud now cover an acre of Thurston's land. The mudslide carried a trash bin from three blocks away and hurled it into a bridge on her property. She and her staff worked for three hours Saturday to remove the bin.

But Thurston, who calls herself a "licensed lady contractor," shielded her inn from the worst of the mudslide: Months after the wildfire, she refashioned timber floorboards from an 1873 carriage house into floodgates that protect the inn along Fountain Creek.

Twenty-two inches of water and debris didn't breach her building.

"I'm descended from two different Colorado pioneers," she said proudly. "We still have a frontier mentality out here."

Not everyone emerged as fortunate as Thurston. Authorities said the mudslide, triggered by a torrential storm that brought 1.5 inches of rain, destroyed several homes and businesses in town and severely damaged others. Video of the mudslide showed debris surging down the fire's burn scar, roads being ripped up, and vehicles sliding down an incline.

But Thurston said such devastation would never define Manitou Springs.

"It's the Western state of mind," she said. "We've got a bunch of whimsical, wonderful people who don't worry about those huge, ugly issues. We deal with problems when they arrive."

A town made famous by its rumbling springs plans to weather this storm, too.

benjamin.mueller@latimes.com

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