Colo. flood evacuees get first view of aftermath

Written by Muleskinner Staff

(LYONS, Colo., AP) — Residents displaced by last week’s flooding in the Colorado canyon town of Lyons were allowed past National Guard roadblocks Thursday to find a scene of tangled power lines, downed utility poles, mud-caked homes and vehicles, and work crews furiously clearing debris and trying to restore power, water and sewer service.

Under tight security, hundreds of Lyons evacuees were given just two hours to check on their homes and leave. On Sept. 12, the St. Vrain River destroyed dozens of homes, a trailer park, two town bridges and sections of the only road in and out of the picturesque town of 1,600 framed by sandstone cliffs.
Evacuees had to clear several roadblocks to get in. Boulder County sheriff’s deputies roamed the community, checking residents’ IDs out of concern that overcrowding would interfere with workers using heavy machinery.
Bob Ruthrauff, 84, found his home intact but was repelled by the smell of rotting food when he opened his door. He spent his two hours in town getting rid of the spoilage but was grateful. “We’re very lucky. We came home to a dry home,” Ruthrauff said.
Nearby, people picked through damaged homes. A white pickup, a lawn tractor and telephone poles sat in the river, which still ran high.
Brenna Willis found huge mounds of mud in her yard and a foot of stagnant water inside her house. In her shed, two mountain bikes were covered with muck. Her winter clothes were muddy rags.
“It’s frustrating. I want to start drying the house out because everything’s wet. It’s wet in there and it’s starting to smell,” Willis said.
“It was paradise, but now it looks like it will be a lot of construction,” said Heather Sakai, whose first-floor rental was flooded.
Sakai makes herbal medicine and is an accountant; she lost her equipment, papers — and 30 feet of her backyard to the river. She said she wanted to stay but was sick of the stench of sewage.
The body of a flood victim was found near Lyons on Thursday, bringing the Colorado flood death toll to seven. Three people in neighboring Larimer County were missing and presumed dead.
Boulder County authorities identified the latest victim as Gerald Boland, an 80-year-old retired teacher and basketball coach. Neighbors said Boland took his wife to safety Sept. 12 but defied a mandatory evacuation order and tried to go back to their home amid the flooding. An autopsy was planned.
The number of people unaccounted for has plunged to about 140, thanks to rescues and restored communications.
Gov. John Hickenlooper appointed a Colorado executive to orchestrate the state’s recovery efforts and a transportation group focused on expediting the rebuilding of highways and bridges.
Englewood-based IHS Inc. Executive Chairman Jerre Stead will oversee rebuilding and advocate for federal funding, Hickenlooper said. IHS is an information firm with experts in energy and economics.
Also Thursday, Hickenkooper said a new group within the Colorado Department of Transportation will try to repair and rebuild as much of the state highway system as possible by Dec. 1. More than 200 miles of state roads and 50 bridges were affected.
Authorities were studying how to accommodate the thousands of displaced, now that search and rescue operations have tapered off.
“Right now we’re just moving from the life-saving mode to the life-sustaining mode,” said Kevin Kline, director of the Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, describing the transition from rescues to getting people into safe housing.
In a sign of things to come, Trail Ridge Road through Rocky Mountain National Park — a key supply route to the flood-ravaged town of Estes Park — was temporarily closed because of snow early Thursday. The high-elevation road normally shuts down in October for the winter.
To the east, Colorado’s flooding triggered at least two significant oil spills. Regulators said 323 barrels of oil spilled from an Anadarko Petroleum tank farm near Platteville. A second Anadarko tank spilled 125 barrels into the South Platte River.
Flooding along the South Platte River pushed into western Nebraska but caused little initial damage.
Amtrak said its Chicago-to-San Francisco California Zephyr train will be detoured through early October because of track damage in the Front Range foothills. Passengers will take buses to Glenwood Springs and Grand Junction, Colo., and to Green River, Helper and Provo, Utah, until repairs are completed.
The White House said Thursday that Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, will survey recovery efforts in Colorado on Monday.