Story Summary

Colorado floods

Heavy rains caused flash floods in Colorado that killed six people, left hundreds unaccounted for and forced the evacuation of 1,000 people.

Story Timeline
Previous Next
This story has 4 updates

Colorado flooding intensifies after record rainsBoulder, Colorado (CNN) — The numbers are stark: As many as six dead. Hundreds more unaccounted for. Up to 1,000 people still awaiting evacuation.

But it’s the stories — of loss, but also generosity and gratitude — that truly reflect the scope of the misery, and the tenacity of spirit, in Colorado’s once-in-a-lifetime flooding — now in its fifth day.


‘I started panicking and I couldn’t breathe’

So far, the state has confirmed four deaths and fear that two others missing will be added to that toll.

The four confirmed victims include a man and a woman, both 19, who were among a group of four teen-agers headed home when the deluge began in Boulder County late Wednesday night.

Emily Briggs was the driver. She told CNN affiliate KUSA-TV that she was terrified. Her friend Wesley Quinlan took over.

“I started panicking and I couldn’t breathe, and Wesley said, ‘It’s OK, Emily, I’ll drive.’ So I let him drive, and we kept driving and we just hit a wall of water and rocks,” Briggs

With the car stopped, Quinlan said everyone should get out and try to reach safety.

“Our feet were just thrown in the air,” said Nathan Jennings, who survived along with Briggs.

Wiyanna Nelson, 19, was swept away first, and Quinlan tried to rescue her, the survivors said.

“I looked at Wesley and he looked at me, and he jumped after her,” Briggs said. She got back in the car and was rescued later. Jennings couldn’t get back to the car but grabbed a log until a firefighter rescued him.

Quinlan’s body was recovered Thursday and Nelson’s body the next day.

Another body was found in a collapsed home in Jamestown in Boulder County. Rescuers recovered a fourth body on a roadway in Colorado Springs in El Paso County.

Those presumed dead include a 60-year-old woman and an 80-year-old woman, both in Larimer County.

Witnesses saw the younger woman swept away by floodwater that demolished her house. The older woman suffered injuries and was unable to leave her home.

Authorities Sunday were updating the lists of “unaccounted for” in the two hardest-hit counties: 482 people in Laramie County and 318 in Boulder County.

Gov. John Hickenlooper said many of those may have found shelter with friends.

“But we’re still bracing,” Hickenlooper told Candy Crowley on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. “I mean, there are many, many homes that have been destroyed. A number have been collapsed, and we haven’t been in them yet.”


‘The helicopters — those were the best’

Ten-year-old Luca Voeller was on a fifth-grade field trip to a camp at a high elevation when the flood began. The floodwaters blocked the road to the camp, trapped 78 students and their teachers.

Teachers were hatching a plan to hike across several miles when National Guard helicopters arrived Saturday.

“The helicopters – those were the best,” he said.

All the choppers were grounded by rain Sunday. But only scattered showers are expected Monday, and then no rain is in the forecast for the remainder of the week.

“If we get that window of opportunity, which it sounds like we might get, we have the horsepower to hit it hard,” federal incident commander Shane Del Grosso said.

Authorities Sunday issued instructions to stranded residents via news and social media how to flag down one of those helicopters.

“Wave a sheet, put a sheet on the roof, fire off flares, even use a small fire so we can see the smoke,” said Ben Pennymon, spokesman for the Boulder County Office of Emergency Management.

He also recommended using a mirror to reflect sunlight.

“And we’re asking people to be ready to go,” Pennymon said.

Medicine, clothes any other critical items should be in “go bag,” he said.


Off the field, into the kitchen

The University of Colorado’s football players, whose home game against Fresno State was canceled Saturday, instead served lunch to about 800 evacuees.

The food had been delivered to the stadium for the canceled game, and university officials didn’t want it to go to waste.

Many of the recipients had been displaced from student housing, the university’s athletic department website reported.

“Tragedies like this can make you feel really separated from the rest of the world,” said Sarah Stith, a resident manager of a school apartment complex. “And it’s things like this that just make you realize what a great community we have.”

Students from several school athletic teams dished out food, cleaned tables and entertained children by signing autographs and taking photos.

Wide receiver D.D Goodson said the water was waist-high in his own room.

“I lost my sofa, my television and some of my shoes and other necessities. It’s nice to help these evacuees because I know what they are going through,” Goodson said.

In Evergreen, about 15 miles west of Denver, many of the 9,000 residents are so eager to help that the fire department had to issue a “Thanks, but no thanks.”

First, the Evergreen Fire Rescue Department tweeted, “Thank you for donations of food but please no more. If you want to help, go to (Station) 2 for sandbagging tonight.”

Forty minutes later, came another tweet: “Thank you Evergreen neighbors! EFR has plenty of help sandbagging.”


No government gridlock here

Sen. Mark Udall was on a helicopter reconnaissance mission with Hickenlooper and other elected officials Saturday that twice was diverted to pick up groups of stranded residents.

“That dog and the cat and those seven people on those two helicopters didn’t ask us whether we were Democrats or Republicans,” Udall said.

He promised a bipartisan push in Congress for federal aid for flood recovery.

Hickenlooper got a call Sunday from President Barack Obama, and FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate will arrive Monday. A joint National Guard-U.S. army command and hundreds of FEMA workers are already in the state.

Boulder County alone will need an estimated $150 million to repair 100 to 150 miles of roadway and 20 to 30 bridges, county transportation director George Gerstle said.

According to the Colorado Office of Emergency Management, the floods have destroyed 1,502 residential structures and damaged 17,494.

David Simpson reported and wrote from Atlanta; Ana Cabrera reported from Boulder, Colorado.

National & World News

Flooded Colorado to get even more rain


BOULDER, Colo. (CNN) — Clear skies allowed for more evacuations and rescues in flood-devastated Colorado on Friday, but the forecast through Sunday called for more heavy rain.

Even after the last of the storms, authorities can’t say how long it will take to reach residents who will remain isolated by devastated roads.

boulderThe confirmed death toll reached four when Boulder County officials recovered the body of a woman who had been swept away after getting out of her vehicle Thursday, Sheriff Joe Pelle said. Authorities already had recovered the body of a man who left the same car and tried to save the woman.

One other death had been reported in Boulder County and one occurred in El Paso County.

President Barack Obama declared an emergency for Boulder, Larimer and El Paso counties, FEMA announced Friday. The declaration allowed FEMA to bring in four rescue teams, the largest ever deployment in Colorado, officials said.

More heavy rain is forecast through Sunday for the region, on top of the 15 inches some parts of the state have already received.

“This isn’t over,” CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said.

On Friday, National Guard troops using “high-profile” trucks to wade through water were evacuating the entire Boulder County town of Lyons, which had been cut off since the flooding began Wednesday night.

“It just really felt like God came down and saved us. It felt great,” Melinda Villa said of the National Guard’s arrival at the Lyons apartment where she was stranded with her 1-month-old infant. She said, “I just felt like I was trapped. No phone, no water, barely any formula for my baby, barely any food for us.”

Jonathan Linenberger described a Noah’s Ark-style evacuation as he, his fiancee and four dogs and three cats greeted the National Guard truck.

“We had to go (through) knee-deep water, at least. We had to wade our animals across into the truck to get them there,” said Linenberger. “That was the first thing you can grab, your loved ones — and that’s what we have.”

The National Guard also was evacuating the entire population — 285 people — from the town of Jamestown by helicopter, CNN affiliate KCNC-TV reported.

Four helicopters were being used for rescues in Boulder County Friday, Pelle said. The sheriff said helicopters also may have to be used indefinitely to deliver food and water to residents along damaged rural roads.

“Please know we’re working hard,” Pelle told residents who might see his televised news conference. “We’re concerned about you. But you’re going to have to be patient. Please know this is an unprecented event.”

About 80 people in Boulder County have been reported missing or “unaccounted for” by relatives, Sheriff’s Cmdr. Heidi Prentup said.

The University of Colorado canceled Saturday’s scheduled football game against Fresno State.

In Larimer County to the north, Sheriff Justin Smith surveyed the heavily damaged Big Thompson Canyon by air Friday. Some people remain stranded in homes there, he said, adding, “How we’re going to get them out — it’s going to take a damn long time.”

However, he said the break in the rain Friday allowed school buses to begin evacuating students who had been stranded at a school.

Smith described widespread damage to roads. He estimated 17 miles of Highway 34, a major artery, will need to be rebuilt.

Lyons rescue

The National Guard effort to get residents out of Lyons began shortly after daybreak. About 100 troops in 21 heavy vehicles able to ford high waters streamed into the city to begin moving residents out, Gov. John Hickenlooper said.

Residents had been entirely cut off, without water or sewer service, in many cases without electricity, facing what Fire Chief J.J. Hoffman said in a Facebook posting was a “very large disaster.”

It was unclear when the evacuation would be complete.

“I encourage all of you — stay strong!” Hoffman wrote on the fire department’s Facebook page. “We will make it through this, we are here for you and doing the absolute best we can with the resources we have to get to each and every one of you!”

As Lyons evacuees arrived at a shelter set up in a church in nearby Longmont, they told stories of houses ripped off their foundations as the St. Vrain Creek turned into a violent river, CNN affiliate KMGH reported.

KMGH reporter Theresa Marchetta said evacuees also described homes dangling off cliffs.

Some people in Lyons still were awaiting rescue, evacuees said, and some residents had chosen to stay. Marchetta said evacuees told her there had been a town meeting and residents were checking on each other to ensure no one was missing.




By John M. Glionna and Jenny Deam

Los Angeles Times

BOULDER, Colo. — Weather-weary Coloradans faced another day of nature-driven mayhem Thursday as pelting rain and flash flooding wreaked havoc statewide, washing out roads, closing businesses, isolating mountain towns and causing at least three deaths.

APphoto_Colorado Flooding

A geyser of water shoots from a flooded sewer in Manitou Springs, Colo. (Michael Ciaglo, Gazette / September 11, 2013)

The fourth straight day of rain dumped more than 7 inches within hours Thursday morning, turning a state normally known for difficult winters into a late-summer nightmare. Swollen rivers, submerged cars and mudslides stranded residents on rooftops.

The rustic communities of Lyons and Jamestown were cut off, with businesses flooding and residents keeping vigil inside their homes. The National Weather Service warned of an “extremely dangerous and life-threatening situation,” and Gov. John Hickenlooper issued a disaster declaration.

Images posted on social media showed a state at the mercy of Mother Nature: Roads cut in half by rising floodwaters, upside-down cars washed downstream like children’s toys; residents riding bikes through raging waters that covered their tires; walls of water pouring off pedestrian bridges like a western Niagara Falls.

One death was reported in Jamestown, one in Colorado Springs and one in Boulder.

Along the hilly streets west of the University of Colorado-Boulder campus, residents worked in drenching rain to build makeshift dams, using sheets of plywood, upturned coffee tables and bags of garden mulch to try to divert the rushing water.

Oliver D’Orazio got a call from his panicked girlfriend, Hannah Tighe, a little after noon. “She was freaking out,” he said, with her basement apartment flooded and water still rising.

When D’Orazio arrived, he was not prepared for what he saw: “It was like a river coming down Seventh Street.”

Tighe, a University of Colorado junior, had been visiting her parents in Denver on Wednesday. When she got back to Boulder, water was blocking her front door. She and her parents slipped in the side door and began hauling out furniture and belongings.

“I was just in shock,” she said.

In nearby Lyons, the flooded St. Vrain River cut off the town. Bob Okun thought he would take the highway into Boulder to go to work but stopped at the sight of rising water.

“Wow,” he thought, “there really is no way out.”

For Thursday and probably at least two more days, he and his family planned to hunker down, live off the groceries in their pantry and boil water because authorities warn that the town’s water supply is not safe to drink.

“I guess we’re stuck,” he said.

Sue Wright, owner of the five-room Aspen Leaf Motel in Lyons, said she was fully booked by residents who had to flee their homes. She said three high-clearance armored vehicles had arrived in the mountain community by Thursday afternoon. The Red Cross said about 200 people had taken shelter in a school there.

“You can’t get in or out of town — the only people who can get here are the National Guard,” Wright said.

South Boulder resident Sherri Parker said she took her daughter to Barnes & Noble late Wednesday

under a steady drizzle. Half an hour later, when she emerged from the store, there were 8 inches of standing water in the parking lot.

Her husband, Shawn, said the town’s emergency sirens sounded about 11:30 p.m. and he got an urgent alert on his cellphone that said: “Wall of water coming down Boulder Canyon. Stay away from Boulder Creek. Seek higher ground immediately.”

“The city of Boulder is just overwhelmed with water,” said Barbara Halpin, a spokeswoman for the Boulder Office of Emergency Management. “I’ve heard from people who say they have lived here for 25 years and have never seen anything like it.”


Viral Video

Rescued! Crews save man from racing currents

COLORADO — Emergency crews in Colorado braved racing floodwaters early Thursday, rescuing a man from a partially submerged car, live on television.

The scene in Lafayette, Colorado, unfolded in video from CNN affiliate KCNC after a night of torrential rain that left at least three people dead. Rock slides and flash flooding collapsed homes, put dams at risk and forced hundreds of people to evacuate.

In Larimer County, a dam break trapped three people, and weather was preventing rescue helicopters from launching to help them.

In nearby Boulder County, emergency officials were getting calls for help “by the dozen” Thursday morning, Boulder County spokesman Andrew Barth said. Crews couldn’t reach some places because of debris, mud and steep terrain, he said.

riverHundreds of people left their homes. At least one shelter was nearly full, according to the Boulder County Office of Emergency Management.

At least two people died in Boulder County, Sheriff Joe Pelle said. Another person was reported dead in Colorado Springs, in El Paso, County.

One of those who died was trapped in a collapsed building in Jamestown, Boulder County spokeswoman Gabbie Boerkircher said.

The circumstances of the other deaths weren’t clear early Thursday, but the Colorado Springs Fire Department said on Twitter that the body had been recovered by a “heavy rescue team.”

For more on this CNN story, click here.