Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Friday's flash floods were Manitou Springs' worst disaster in decades

29 photos photo - Bryce Earl checks out the damage off Canon Avenue Saturday, August 10, 2013 after a flash flood that tore through Manitou Springs Friday. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette + caption
Bryce Earl checks out the damage off Canon Avenue Saturday, August 10, 2013 after a flash flood that tore through Manitou Springs Friday. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette
By Jakob Rodgers, Garrison Wells and Andrea Sinclair The Gazette - Updated: August 11, 2013 at 1:24 pm

Battered, bloodied and muddied, Manitou Springs on Saturday began to dig out of its worst disaster in decades.

Wielding shovels, water pumps, skid loaders and backhoes, Manitou Springs home and business owners took to recovering from a massive and deadly flash flood that hit Friday evening, leaving one man dead and two people reported missing.

The force of the four-foot wall of water, mud and debris that roared off the Waldo Canyon burn scar could be measured in the mess revealed at dawn Saturday: Six houses destroyed; 11 houses seriously damaged; 23 buildings with cosmetic damage; 40 cars towed off Manitou Springs streets and more off U.S. 24; broken gas, sewer and water lines, and at least 20 businesses that had to shut down at least temporarily.

Three people were reported injured Friday night, and a couple of volunteers were injured Saturday; none of the injuries were serious, officials said.

Initially, three people were reported missing, but one of those, a man who recently moved to Narrows Road, was located Saturday. Two others remained unaccounted for, including Juston Travis, a 24-year-old homeless man reported missing by his mother, and an unidentified woman who witnesses saw clinging to a tree Friday night. They did not know what happened to her.

Manitou Springs Police Chief Joe Ribeiro said all damaged buildings have been searched, but creek beds filled with debris are still being searched.

Meanwhile, a Divide man known for his work pouring cement as well as a fondness for gardening was identified as the person whose body was found Friday night in flood debris on U.S. 24.

John Collins was returning home from work when his car was caught in the raging flood, said Lacey Linder, who remembered her uncle, as a "big teddy bear."

"He was an awesome, awesome man," Linder said.

Collins' body was found late Friday beneath a "significant" debris pile, and his vehicle was found in the same general area but further west, the El Paso County Sheriff's Office said. It was unknown if Collins got out of his vehicle on his own or was pushed out by rapidly rushing water and debris, officials said.

Collins' cause of death is believed to be drowning, according to the El Paso County Coroner's office.

Collins made a living doing cement work, but spent much of his time at home in greenhouses he built, growing flowers and vegetables. During the holiday, he often would don a white beard and playing the part of Santa Claus for the Kiwanis Club of Ute Pass - Woodland Park.

"It was always the highlight of my children's Christmas to be able to sit on his lap.," said Jessica Russ-Medovich, a family friend. "It was something that they will never forget."

The loss cut particularly deep for Linder, who spent last June anxious over her parents' safety. Both of them volunteered with the Green Mountain Falls Chipita Park Fire Department.

"It just seems like things keep happening," she said, before adding, "Coloradans, we're tough."

Indeed, that toughness was obvious Saturday at Manitou Springs residents took to the massive cleanup work, even as another flash flood advisory was issued. Only light rain fell on the town Saturday.

Still, officials know the destructive flood could well become a regular event.

"This is the first year of the burn scar," said Colorado Springs fire Lt. Steve Schopper. "We've got nine more years of this."

And damages can accumulate - among the homes destroyed Friday were two that had been damaged in the July 1 flood, Ribeiro said.

Officials on Saturday focused on re-establishing emergency services, working on utilities and cleanup.

Canon and Park avenues remain closed; but U.S. 24 fully reopened Saturday evening.

Though the city was getting a lot of "spontaneous volunteers," Ribeiro said officials weren't able to handle the help Saturday. People, he added, should not handle debris from the storm until areas are deemed safe.

Nonetheless, volunteers were everywhere, mud on their shoes, legs and clothing, carrying shovels, brooms and buckets.

One woman lugged a sledgehammer and pick down Manitou Avenue, while a backhoe worked in the same creek that flooded the Blue Skies Inn, dredging timber and debris from the clogged waterway.

Three feet of mud filled a parking garage at the intersection of Park and Canon avenues, and a man working a skid loader worked until dusk to remove it one bucket at a time.

Crews piled mud and debris five feet high along the street leading to Soda Springs Park, covering parking spaces usually filled by tourists.

A walk down the city's main drag revealed an eerie dichotomy.

Many stores and homes along Canon Avenue were being emptied of damp and dirty damaged goods, even as tourists wandered by.

Manitou Avenue, the main road into the town, was jammed with incoming traffic most of the day - bringing a mix of tourists and gawkers.

On the north side of the street, people mopped floors of mud and pumped water from their basements.

To the south, outdoor patios at restaurants were stuffed with people enjoying a partly sunny summer day.

"The areas that were affected were storage areas and garages, but there were some residences on Lovers Lane and behind the American Legion, where there are a bunch of little apartments and bungalows, that got hit pretty hard. They are trying to dig out," said Tony Del Lago, disaster assessment supervisor for the American Red Cross. Narrows Road, he said, "is not passable and won't be for a while because a lot of water and debris came down there."

All that was left of one cottage on Narrows Road was its foundation.

Multiple organizations and agencies have jumped in to help.

The U.S. Forest Service signed a memorandum of understanding Saturday and in the afternoon began to bring in extra crews with power saws and other cleanup equipment, said El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark.

At the Red Cross shelter at the Historic Community Congregational Church, 103 Pawnee Ave., residents could pick up kits including mop heads and buckets. The shelter, which housed seven people Friday night, will remain open at least through Sunday afternoon.

Clark said AspenPointe would be available to help with the emotional scarring for residents hard hit. Other mental health help will be available through Manitou Springs, said David Hunting, the city's spokesman.

"We're going to have people available that the Red Cross has provided to help folks get through these tough times," at the church, he said.

The storm, which hit at about 6 p.m. Friday night, was two to three times worse than two previous floods this year, said Manitou Mayor Marc Snyder.

Muddy water hit the upper end of Canon Avenue on July 1, destroying three houses and damaging others. On July 10, about 24 vehicles were swept off westbound Highway 24 or stuck in a mud flow.

Snyder said Friday's flooding was like combining those two events - and worse.

And the forecast for next week calls for a similar weather pattern filled with the potential for more severe thunderstorms.

"This is the new normal," said Clark, surveying damage at the mouth of Williams Canyon.

Still, Snyder said Manitou is resilient and more than 90 percent of businesses were unaffected.

"We do have a real can-do spirit here in Manitou Springs, he said.

 

To Help

Volunteers wishing to help with the Manitou Springs cleanup should go to a check-in center at Tajine Alami, the Moroccan restaurant at 10 Old Mans Trail 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Sunday.

“All volunteers can come in, get work assigned, and help out,” said Manitou Springs Police Chief Joe Ribeiro. “We want to make sure everyone that checks in also checks out by the afternoon, as the threat of thunderstorms continues.”

Volunteers should wear long pants, sturdy shoes and work gloves.

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