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Colorado Springs residents affected by flash floods find no relief

September 18, 2016 Updated: September 19, 2016 at 8:04 am
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The sentiments of the occupant of a house on Willow St. is reflected on a fence at the house. Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2016. .photo by Jerilee Bennett,The Gazette

No help is coming for residents recovering from the Aug. 29 flash flood in downtown Colorado Springs.

None of them had purchased flood insurance, which is separate from homeowners coverage, so insurance companies aren't paying. No one declared the storm damage a national emergency, so federal agencies aren't paying. The city denies accusations uncleaned drainage systems are to blame, so it's not paying.

The residents are paying.

The homeowners are footing thousands of dollars in repairs, as many of the rentals on Logan Avenue and basements along Platte Avenue stand gutted and empty. Nearly all appliances and personal belongings were thrown into dumpsters, too waterlogged to keep.

Those residents renting the damaged properties also are faced with finding a new place to live as repairs are ongoing and at least two landlords on Logan Avenue decided to get out of the business.

Erma Medina's entire rental home requires renovation after feet of hail and water flooded the basement and top floor, forcing the tenant to seek refuge on a bed until he could be rescued. Now in her 70s, Medina said it's too much work to restore.

Jim Elbe isn't fixing his rental across the street, either.

He had agreed to turn over the home to his 8-year tenants the week before 28 inches of water filled the first floor. He estimates repairs would cost about $30,000 on the cheaper end, money he'd rather not spend, so he plans to sell the place as is.

Like most others recovering after the flood, Elbe said he regrets not getting flood insurance, but had long thought it wasn't an option because he didn't live in a flood plain.

The misconception is common among homeowners, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which runs the National Flood Insurance Program. While it's true some insurance companies don't offer private flood insurance, everyone has access to the national program.

The NFIP offers separate policies for up to $250,000 in home flood coverage and up to $100,000 for its contents. The cost is dependent on the land's flood risk.

Because Logan Avenue and Platte Avenue, near Willow Street, where the worst of the flooding collected, are designated as low-risk flood areas, coverage is relatively inexpensive, according to NFIP. A preferred risk policy would cost about $420 a year, the website said.

Still, most homeowners forgo the extra cost - and protection - because the risk is so low.

According to the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association, not even the unprecedented September 2013 flood that killed eight locals, affected 26,000 homes, ruined 200 miles of infrastructure and led the governor to declare Colorado's first disaster emergency in 20 years could scare homeowners into getting covered.

During that flood, 3,698 El Paso County residents had flood insurance. Today, that number is 3,018, according to RMIIA. Of those policies, 1,950 are in Colorado Springs.

Statewide, there are 22,749 policies, RMIIA data shows.

But the flood map doesn't always show true risk, said Diana Herrera, senior regional insurance specialist with FEMA Region 8, which covers Colorado. FEMA records show a little over half of the people who applied for federal recovery funds in 2013 lived in low-risk flood zones.

Those victims had dually been hit by wildfires, leaving the area especially vulnerable to flooding, Herrera said, but the fact is, Colorado weather is unpredictable.

"Low to moderate flood zones are still just that, flood zones," Herrera said. "It doesn't mean the water is going to stop at our lines."

Residents aren't convinced the wild weather is to blame.

They say stormwater drains designed to route water away from their properties failed because they city hadn't been cleaning them. Within minutes, the drains clogged, forming a river of water topped with hail that busted down property and broke through basement windows, flooding homes.

The next day, the city was out cleaning drains and sweeping debris from the street.

"They hadn't come to clean out the drains in I don't know how long, so it had nowhere to go," resident Lorri Niemeyer said.

Public Works Operations and Maintenance Manager Corey Farkas previously told the Gazette the city isn't to blame for Mother Nature. It was hail that clogged drains, Farkas said, and where hail didn't directly plug drains, leaves knocked down by the ice bullets did.

The system isn't designed for that, he said.

But that doesn't mean nothing can be done to prevent future damage, according to city officials

Speaking through city spokeswoman Kim Melchor, stormwater staff said they're evaluating the "older, smaller system" for possible improvements that may reduce localized flooding in the future.

"We are certainly responsible for maintaining the stormwater system and if something needs to be repaired we will address it," the staff said in an email.

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Contact Kaitlin Durbin: 636-0362

Twitter: @njKaitlinDurbin

Facebook: Kaitlin Durbin

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