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Colorado flooding: Deadly rains break record set in 1919

September 12, 2013|By Jenny Deam
  • Residents stand above a road washed out near Lyons, Colo.
Residents stand above a road washed out near Lyons, Colo. (Brennan Linsley / Associated…)

BOULDER, Colo. - Unrelenting rain that swamped this city and much of the state’s heavily populated corridor from Wyoming to New Mexico shattered records Thursday as officials warned the storms weren’t over.

In Boulder, 7.21 inches of rain fell in just more than 15 hours, from 6 p.m. Wednesday to 9:15 a.m. Thursday, the National Weather Service said. That was 50% more than the previous record set in 1919 - 4.8 inches within 24 hours.

Heavy rain was forecast for Boulder and Larimer counties Thursday night, and even more was predicted for Friday.

More than two dozen roads were closed because of flooding or collapse. Floodwaters cut off the towns of Lyons and Jamestown, with at least one highway buckled in the area.  

A major artery between Boulder and Denver closed just after evening rush hour as water threatened to wash cars off the road. The same highway, U.S. 36, had closed between Lyons and Estes Park earlier in the day. 

Highway 93 connecting Golden to Boulder was also closed.

President Obama declared the area a disaster Thursday night.

The flooding was exacerbated by recent wildfires that had cleared much vegetation from forestland.

The death toll had reached three, and authorities feared it would go higher. The Boulder Sheriff’s Department said witnesses reported seeing a woman fall from her car and get swept away. A man who tried to rescue her was confirmed dead, and she is missing, authorities said. One person was killed in Colorado Springs and another in Jamestown.

Few places on the Front Range were spared for hundreds of miles. Evacuation orders were issued for parts of Longmont and Loveland. And just after noon, thousands of residents of Commerce City, a suburb northeast of Denver, were ordered evacuated when a retention pond overflowed. Later, more evacuations were ordered when a dam broke in a wildlife area northeast of Denver.

Heavy flooding also was reported in Aurora, where traffic was snarled throughout the day. Several major exits off Interstate 70 were closed because of deep, rushing water.

Residents across the region remained hunkered down as day turned to night. Some watched with dread as water began to seep over porches and into homes.

Emergency officials asked people to stay home Thursday night because the threat of deep water on roads was impossible to gauge in the darkness.

A group of fearful parents spent part of Thursday waiting for word of their children, who were stranded at an outdoor educational camp near Jamestown. Katy Human, whose fifth-grade son is at the camp, got a text alert in the afternoon that all children were safe and had plenty of food and water, but a culvert at the base of the access road had washed out. 

Although she wants her son home, she told the Los Angeles Times: "I want the kids to stay put, where they're safe. I don't want anyone rushing them home, risking dangerous roads."

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