President Barack Obama on Thursday approved federal disaster assistance for El Paso, Boulder and Larimer counties, where flooding killed three people - including a man in Colorado Springs - and wrought devastation up and down the Front Range.
While some northern Colorado communities continued to be ravaged by high water Thursday night, the region was otherwise spared from the worst. Locally, roads were closed, some low-lying areas were evacuated and warning sirens blared several times throughout the day and early evening in Manitou Springs.
Still, with heavy rain falling Thursday, saturating the ground and turning creeks into raging, muddy rivers, more flooding is possible Friday and through the weekend, as the stormy weather shows no signs of letting up in the latest round of deadly flooding. Rain totals on the Waldo Canyon burn scar ranged from 3.39 inches to 4.49 inches, over a 24-hour period ending at 10:30 p.m. Thursday, according to the National Weather Service. At Fort Carson, the range was from 3.5 inches to 11.11 inches.
"We didn't dodge anything. It just didn't hit us," said Dan Parton, pastor of Timberline Baptist Church in Manitou Springs, which was damaged in the destructive flood of Aug. 9 but avoided high water Thursday.
Like that flood, which killed a Divide man on U.S. 24, this week's round of heavy rains also has been deadly. A man's body was found in Fountain Creek early Thursday, identified as Danny Davis, 54. The El Paso County Coroner's Office had no address for him and said he died of accidental drowning. Two others died in northern Colorado, one when a structure collapsed in the tiny town of Jamestown northwest of Boulder and another who drowned in northern Boulder as he was trying to help a woman who was swept away in a torrent of water.
The disaster declaration by Obama, announced Thursday night, authorizes the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate relief efforts and to pay up to 75 percent of the costs of emergency measures.
As night fell Thursday night and the rain continued, Fountain Creek was running high and was expected to hit 12.4 feet and spill over its banks and remain high until Friday night. U.S. 24 was closed twice Thursday, and emergency crews were kept busy across the city, rescuing stranded motorists at 19th and Uintah streets and evacuating homes near Cheyenne Creek, which spilled its banks and flowed onto Cheyenne Road. Later Thursday, firefighters reportedly evacuated residents from St. Elmo Street, also along Cheyenne Creek. The creek was expected to remain a trouble spot for flooding throughout the night.
With the highway and several other west-side roads closed, the Pikes Peak chapter of the American Red Cross established a shelter at First Presbyterian Church, 103 N. Weber St., in Colorado Springs.
There were no reports of major damage in Manitou Springs, whose weary and water-logged residents endured two rounds of high water Thursday. Manitou schools were closed because of the flood risk, and when a wave of storms rolled in about 10 a.m., many began the now-familiar task of piling sandbags.
"I'm calling it a day," said Travis Mouzy, owner of Manitou Chiropractic, after he placed a small flood barrier in front of his door on Canon Avenue. "I stay as positive as can be and be aware of what's going on."
Others in Manitou and on Colorado Springs' west side were on edge from the constant threat of floods. Students at Howbert Elementary School, which fronts Camp Creek on 31st Street in the Pleasant Valley neighborhood, were sent home from school early.
Even those on higher ground called the situation "scary."
"Even though my house is safe, you just get really scared because it happens so fast," said Pam Peterson, who lives on a high plot of land on Canon Avenue in Manitou. She watched water flowing out of Williams Canyon rise 6 feet in a minute Thursday morning and said it "sounds like a monster."
"Second night of no sleep," said Kim Stahlman, who lives on Narrows Road in Manitou. "I'm stressed. I'm worried for the town."
The rain was several times the 1.3 inches that fell on the hills above Manitou Springs on Aug. 9 with devastating consequences, but damage from that storm was so much greater because it fell in a half-hour, while Thursday's rains were spread out, city administrator Jack Benson said. Debris didn't clog storm drains, and drainage culverts and aqueducts held the water.
"The rest of the city did great. This is just a lot of rain," Benson said. "As long as it's not intense in a short period of time, we can do a lot of rain."
The National Weather Service expects storms to continue over Manitou on Friday, with a 60 percent chance of rain, followed by a 40 percent chance of rain Saturday, though rainfall totals are expected to be lighter. On Sunday, a "northerly surge" is predicted to hit Colorado, bringing a threat of thunderstorms.
Gazette reporter Daniel J. Chac? contributed to this report