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Colorado floods: Rising waters and rising fears

September 12, 2013|By Michael Muskal and Jenny Deam
  • Flood waters course through a small park in Boulder, Colo., in this image made with a slow shutter speed.
Flood waters course through a small park in Boulder, Colo., in this image… (Jud Valeski / AP )

BOULDER, Colo. – Sherri Parker walked into a Barnes & Noble bookstore Wednesday night during a drizzle, part of days-long precipitation that turned the area into a soggy mess.

When she and her daughter emerged half an hour later, they had to slog through 8 inches of standing water, and Parker said she didn’t know whether they could make it home.

They weren’t sure they could get out of the parking lot, she told the Los Angeles Times on Thursday after rain poured from the skies for the fourth consecutive day.  There was water in part of their home, she said, but the family hadn't had to evacuate because the house is on a hill.

Officials urged residents to seek higher ground as  heavy rains brought flash floods, flood warnings and advisories to much of the state. The saturated ground simply could not absorb the overnight deluge.

As much as 9 inches fell in hours in some areas, forcing rivers and creeks over their banks. Rivers of water demolished some roads and dams.

The towns of Lyons and Jamestown were cut off, as were others. By late afternoon, high-clearance armored vehicles were moving across blocked mountain roads to help stranded people. Residents were told to boil drinking water as a precaution.

At least three people were confirmed dead, and officials warned that there could be more once emergency workers reached isolated areas. The National Guard was helping the rescue effort.

Gov. John Hickenlooper issued a disaster declaration. “We've approved disaster declaration & will request emerg. declaration from FEMA for search & rescue & emergency protective actions,” Hickenlooper said via Twitter on Thursday morning. The declaration could bring added funds to deal with what is expected to be millions of dollars in damage. 

Some news reports said hundreds of people had been evacuated.

In Boulder, there were no evacuations, but driving around was a white-knuckle affair as water turned roadways into slip-sliding chutes of potential disaster. Traffic was snarled at many streets. In low-lying areas, water, once comfortably deposited within the banks of streams, spread like spilled ink, staining roads.

Geysers sprung up from underground, spouting through the small holes in manhole covers.

Behind Boulder Community Foothills Hospital, water was thigh-deep and rising fast in the parking lot. Rushing rapids moved through a nearby recreation area, overturning picnic tables and nearly reaching volleyball nets. Trees and bushes had become underwater plants.

Justin Sikkema said he drove from Boulder to Arvada about 10 p.m.  Wednesday and his was one of the last cars to beat the road closures. He said he saw a car submerged up to the hood.

“Boulder County is experiencing a disaster today that is broad in scope and very dangerous in nature,” Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said during a morning news briefing. “We know that we've lost lives. We anticipate that as the day goes on we may discover that we've lost others.”

The University of Colorado-Boulder was closed Thursday and will remain closed Friday as officials assess the damage. 

Homes were in peril in the Larimer County areas of Big Elk Meadows, Pine Springs and Blue Mountain, and residents were told to seek safety. Several creeks in Boulder and Larimer counties, including Coal Creek, Left Hand Canyon Creek, 4 Mile Creek and St. Vrain Creek, were flooding over their banks Thursday.

All roads into the nearby foothills were closed, as were many into Boulder. There had been reports of people stranded in trees and huddled on rooftops in the foothills with emergency workers unable to reach them. There were also reports of 8-foot-high debris walls pushed by more than 6 feet of water.

The usually tranquil Boulder Creek was flowing at more than 1,800 cubic feet per second, nine times its usual rate, city spokeswoman Sarah Huntley said at the morning news briefing. Overnight, she said, the creek was roaring at 3,200 cubic feet per second.

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