Flash flooding has killed three people in the last 24 hours here in Northern Colorado, and search and rescue teams have been hampered by the high waters and inaccessible road conditions as heavy rains pounded the area early this morning. US News and World Report noted:
One victim was found on an interstate highway engulfed in water, by Colorado Springs police. The second victim was discovered in a collapsed home near Nederland, Colo..The most recent victim was found on a street in the city of Boulder.
The National Weather Service has been warning of an “extremely dangerous and life-threatening situation” in the region while the flooding forced people to evacuate their homes and cancel classes, and provoked huge mudslides and rockslides in some areas.
The National Weather Service tweeted at 10:49 a.m.: “Great deal of water moving down Boulder Canyon. Move away from the creek and seek higher ground NOW.”
The City of Longmont ordered mandatory evacuations in the Southmoor Park neighborhood.
“Please leave your home now. Move away from Left Hand Creek,” Police Department spokesman Jeff Satur said.
School buses are being made available for those evacuees at Quebec Ave. and S. Main St. Everyone is asked to leave in a bus or vehicle, not on foot.
As the AP reports:
“Move to higher ground now. Act quickly to protect your life,” the Weather Service warned in numerous bulletins that went out throughout the morning.
Boulder Office of Emergency Management spokeswoman Gabrielle Boerkircher said volunteers were trying to help stranded people until emergency crews could arrive because many roads were impassable.
Boerkircher told The Associated Press one person was killed when a structure collapsed in the tiny town of Jamestown. She said no details were available.
“We’re trying to get to Jamestown,” Boerkircher said. “A lot of towns need assistance, and we cannot get through.”
According to The Denver Post, county officials reported that some homes in Jamestown have collapsed.
Flood warnings like this one have been happening often in the area since last year’s Waldo Canyon Fire, which destroyed 347 homes, killed two people, and burned through 28 square miles. Now, the soil absorbs less water, making it more vulnerable to flash floods.
Phil Plait, a Boulder resident and astronomer, knows about all of this firsthand:
It started raining off and on a month or more ago, but then a couple of days ago, the skies opened up. We’ve had more than an inch of rain in some places, and it’s had nowhere to go but down from the foothills of the Rockies. Boulder is now flooding; the Boulder Creek crested at 2.7 meters (8.8 feet) last night, well above its usual height.
Creeks all over the area are now rivers. I happened to be driving past one northwest of town this morning, so I grabbed my camera and shot some video.
Meteorologist Bob Kleyla of the National Weather Service said a 20-foot wall of water has been reported in Left Hand Canyon (north of Boulder), and a firefighter radioed in asking for backup, as he was “trapped in a tree”. He said debris was blocking rescuers who were trying to get through.
An earthen dam in the Big Elk Meadows area also “‘gave way”, prompting Larimer County officials to order Pinewood Springs and Blue Mountain residents to be ready to evacuate at any moment, and to “seek higher ground immediately”.
According to Reuters:
…Lyons had reported that its residents had no fresh running water and its sewage treatment plant had been knocked out.
“We’re trying desperately to get to them,” Pelle said.
It gets worse, however ; The sheriff’s spokesman in Larimer County said that three other dams are in danger of being breached in the area. They are being monitored and residents are being warned that a big dam near Estes Park will start releasing water to relieve the danger, and this will cause the Big Thompson River to rise, and that more evacuations are possible from this threat.
Overall, damage is being reported in four separate counties – Boulder, Larimer, Jefferson (Northwest of Denver), and El Paso Counties (near Colorado Springs). According to Capt. John Burt of Colorado State Patrol, a heavy storm cell moved through during the night, dumping heavy amounts of rain, then spread east, causing flooding on the Eastern Plains…then “turned around and headed back”?
“It’s a different weather cell than we have seen in the past,” he said.
Rainfall has been dramatically increased throughout the past few days, and last night was so dramatic, it triggered mudslides. Boulder got up to half a foot of rain in 12 hours, while Denver received over 1/3 of a foot of rain, and an astounding 7 inches in Weld County.
A flash flood warning has been issued by the National Weather Service in northwest Jefferson County, and a mandatory evacuation order is in effect for Jamestown and the Fourmile area. An evacuation center has been set up in nearby Nederland to accommodate them, and as debris piled up around bridges, flash flood emergencies were issued in Front Range mountain areas, including Fort Lupton, Dacono, Plateville
One bulletin for Adams County included a succinct warning: “Stay away or be swept away.”
In the meantime, about 400 students from UC-Boulder were evacuated and classes have been canceled because of the flooding.
“We’ve asked people in low-lying areas all through the county to evacuate,” said Andrew Barth, another Emergency Management spokesman.
The NWS also issued flash flood warnings for parts of Broomfield, Adams, Weld, Larimer, and El Paso counties. Mudslides and rockslides were reported in several areas, with parts of highways in the area all reporting problems and temporary blockages during the evening. Lefthand Canyon was also reportedly blocked by one of the slides.
Boulder police dispatchers received calls reporting flooded basements and homes, and submerged cars. The flooding has made many streets impassible, and Emergency Management Director Mike Chard said people should – naturally – avoid creeks and waterways, and reminded people not to attempt to cross flooded intersections in their cars.
“We’re also asking people who are OK to shelter in place Thursday, just because the roads are so bad,” Barth said.
According to a report by KCNC, the worst flooding overall occurred in Erie, where up to a foot of water was dropped.
According to the Washington Post:
Despite all the water, residents are being told to only drink bottled or boiled water because of a possible breach of the town’s water system.
And according to ABC News:
Although everyone was believed to be safe, the deluge was expected to continue into Friday.
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