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Last updated: September 16. 2013 11:56PM - 703 Views
HANNAH DREIER and JERI CLAUSING Associated Press



Miranda Woodard, left, and Joey Schendel help salvage and clean property Monday in an area inundated after days of flooding, in Hygiene, Colo.
Miranda Woodard, left, and Joey Schendel help salvage and clean property Monday in an area inundated after days of flooding, in Hygiene, Colo.
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ESTES PARK, Colo. — Colorado mountain towns cut off for days by massive flooding slowly reopened to reveal cabins toppled, homes ripped from their foundations and everything covered in a thick layer of muck. Anxious home and business owners cleaned and cleared out what they could salvage as the weather cleared Monday to resume airlifting those still stranded.


Crews plowed up to a foot of mud left standing along Estes Park’s main street after the river coursed through the heart of town late last week.


“I hope I have enough flood insurance,” said Amy Hamrick, whose friends helped her pull up flooring and clear water and mud from the crawl space at her coffee shop. Her inventory was safely stashed at her home on higher grounds, she said.


Emergency officials offered a first glimpse at the scope of the damage. Counties reported about 1,500 homes have been destroyed and about 17,500 damaged, according to an initial estimate released Sunday by the Colorado Office of Emergency Management.


The number of people still unaccounted for was dropping Monday as Larimer County officials said they had made contact with hundreds of people previously not heard from in flooded areas.


With rescuers reaching more pockets of stranded residents and phone service being restored in some areas, officials expect those numbers to continue to decrease.


“You’re got to remember, a lot of these folks lost cellphones, landlines, the Internet four to five days ago,” Gov. John Hickenlooper said on NBC’s “Today” show. “I am very hopeful that the vast majority of these people are safe and sound.”


The death toll remained at four confirmed fatalities and two missing and presumed dead.


Helicopter searches and airlifts resumed Monday as the sun broke through the clouds over the mountains. Rainy weather had kept the helicopters grounded most of the day Sunday and early Monday.


On Sunday, military helicopters rescued 12 people before the rain, and 80 more people were evacuated by ground, Colorado National Guard Lt. James Goff said.


In Estes Park, comparisons were drawn to two historic and disastrous flash floods: the Big Thompson Canyon Flood of 1976 that killed 145 people, and the Lawn Lake flood of 1982 that killed three.


“Take those times 10. That’s what it looks like in the canyon,” said Deyn Johnson, owner of the Whispering Pines cottages, three of which floated down the river after massive amounts of water were released from the town’s dam.


Estes Park town administrator Frank Lancaster said this flood is worse than the previous ones because of the sustained rains and widespread damage to infrastructure across the Rocky Mountain Foothills.


Major road were washed away, small towns like Glen Haven were reduced to debris, and key infrastructure like gas lines and sewers systems were destroyed. That means hundreds of homes in Estes Park alone could be unreachable and uninhabitable for up to a year.


But there appears to be no loss of life in this gateway community to Rocky Mountain National Park, Lancaster said.


“We know there are a lot of people trapped, but they are trapped alive,” he told people gathered at a Red Cross evacuation shelter Sunday.


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