Published: September 15, 2013
BOULDER — As people came down from the flooded foothills of the Colorado Rockies, they brought tales of dramatic rescues, heartbreaking loss and neighbors coming together to protect their families and homes. Here are a few of their stories:
Emma Hardy's husband woke her up Wednesday night to say a well-loved neighbor had been killed by a mudslide that crushed his Jamestown home. From that point on, the 46-year-old artist and her family were in constant motion, knocking on doors and trying to get people out.
But within hours, a new, impassable river formed and bisected the town.
"It was totally biblical," Hardy said. "And then it just started getting worse and worse."
They watched a 10-foot-high culvert smash their deck. By the time the rain slowed, the house was in the water, but, Hardy made sure to point out, "still standing."
A rental property Hardy owned was completely washed away.
"It's the river's house now," a neighbor observed outside an evacuation drop-off point at a high school.
Like many Jamestown residents, Hardy said she did not begin to process the scale of the disaster until she was flying away from the town.
"When you're bailing out buckets of water, you're not really thinking about anything. Now it's starting to sink in," she said.
The creek outside Terry Kishiyama's home just outside Lyons washed away the family's drinking well and much of their land.
"The river was just getting higher and higher to the point where we thought we were going to die," he said after walking off a school bus of evacuees. "You couldn't even talk because it was so loud."
Kishiyama, his wife, 5-year-old son and 1-year-old daughter hiked to a neighbor's house on higher ground. They shared a single toothbrush as they waited several days for rescue. Helicopters flew by in the distance, though none came near their location until Saturday morning.
Then, a military helicopter appeared across the river. Kishiyama's son whipped off his orange T-shirt and waved it over his head.
His wife shouted, "We have babies!"
Kishiyama made eye contact with the pilot. Finally, he knew they would be safe.
Residents along Gregory Creek near Boulder joined with students from the nearby University of Colorado in a frantic effort to save homes.
They raided each other's yards for flagstones, filled garbage bags with sand and used whatever else they could to make berms and divert the water away from the houses. Along the alley, which had turned into a fast-moving river, they strung a rope so they could safely maneuver.
The diversion tactics worked. Many of the homes had basement flooding, and some kitchens were damaged, but all the houses remained intact.
A conflict arose Saturday when city crews with dump trucks and front-end loaders showed up to remove some of the residents' handiwork. After some protests from homeowners, the crews left many of the diversion berms in place.
"People are extremely relieved, but we're not out of it yet," Charles Corfield said.
At Ted's Place, a convenience store at the entrance to Poudre Canyon west of Fort Collins, dark clouds gathered Saturday afternoon with the threat of more rain. Michael Sronce made his way down from his home in the canyon to get milk and bread for a neighbor with seven children.
"There's a lot of people up there who need food and need to get out," he said.
He and his wife had initially been told to evacuate but couldn't because the river was flowing over the bridge to their house. On Saturday, Sronce was able to get down the road to the convenience store, stopping short of a traffic checkpoint and walking the rest of the way so he wouldn't be kept from returning to his home if he drove past the checkpoint.
"These trees were coming down the river and would hit the abutment to the bridge, and the earth would shake. So much power," Sronce said.
Sronce endured major flooding and runoff in the area two years ago, but said the water this time was 3 to 4 feet higher.
For a group of grinning, super-fit men and women, the flooding offered a real-life test of the skills they were learning in a wilderness survival course at a campground.
As they got off a school bus Saturday, the happy campers shouted boasts among themselves about how long they could have lasted in the wild.
"There were rabbits around. There were fish in the pond, water — you just make a charcoal filter and boil it," said Norwell Therien, who wore camouflage cargo shorts and several earrings and is starting an emergency preparedness company. "We could have been up there for the two weeks they speculated it would take to fix the roads without problem. I would have been cool with it."
The torrential rain became a lesson in how to deal with washed-out trails.
"With our background in survival, we were perfectly content to just continue our class. We were all taking notes in the rain." Therien said. "I had already begun scouting out where you might find a rabbit or where the deer might come."