Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Gazette Premium Content Manitou Springs works to restore normalcy amid ongoing storm threats

By Jakob Rodgers and Matt Steiner The Gazette - Updated: August 13, 2013 at 8:04 am

The fierce drumbeat of thunderstorms continued to threaten the Waldo Canyon burn scar Monday, bringing heavy rain and hail to Manitou Springs but largely sparing the small city of more flood damage.

That constant threat - the anxiety of waiting for another muddy torrent - hung ominously over the waterlogged city. And forecasts call for more of the same from Mother Nature on Tuesday and Wednesday.

"It's scary," said Tracy Fagner, owner of D'Vine Wine in the Manitou Spa Building. "You're whole livelihood is here.

"It's getting to the point where one drop of rain, you're starting to panic."

Shortly after a flash flood warning was issued at 2:31 p.m. officials closed U.S. 24 from Manitou to Cascade, as well as some roads in Manitou. The flood siren sounded and cars streamed toward the east. As the water in Fountain Creek rose, and warnings were issued to businesses between Manitou and western Colorado Springs.

Hail accumulated like snow along the hillsides bordering the town, and Monday's storms turned some lanes of Manitou Avenue into creek beds. But by 4:15 p.m. it was over, and the flood warning was lifted.

The patio of the Adam's Mountain Cafe flooded with muddy water that rushed down Canon Avenue onto Park Avenue, but only a small amount of water made its way indoors..

"We got lucky again," said Jaime Green, who lives in an apartment above the cafe. "We thought it was going to come down hard again."

As residents kept their eyes to the sky, mounds of mud and debris remained stacked alongside city streets from Friday's storm, which killed one man on U.S. 24 and damaged or destroyed dozens of houses and businesses.

The devastation could have been worse, said officials at the monthly Waldo Canyon Fire Regional Recovery Group meeting.

Five finished sediment retention ponds that were build in Waldo Canyon kept more than 11,000 tons of debris from making it to the highway, said Dave Rosgen, of Wildland Hydrology, which conducted the Watershed Assessment of River Stability and Sediment Supply study earlier this year in the Waldo Canyon burn area.

If the basins weren't there, CDOT and county crews would have had to haul away another 1,100 dump truck loads before U.S. 24 was reopened.

Rosgen was cautious, however, noting that the intent of the ponds is merely to slow the flow of flash flood waters and debris "so we don't have the high velocities" and destroy the steep slopes even more.

Even with the ponds in place, the floodwaters Friday were vicious - sweeping away more than 20 cars and killing motorist John Collins.

"There's no way these basins are going to stop the floods," Rosgen said.

The cleanup continued Monday as the city prepared to host one of its keynote events: The Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon.

Mayor Marc Snyder said emergency management officials from around the Pikes Peak region had urged him to shut down the town and businesses and cancel the marathon and ascent so cleanup could be done.

"I told them I was not going to do that," he said.

About 120 to 150 truckloads of debris must be hauled somewhere, Snyder said - a complicated task.

Colorado state rules must be followed while disposing such material, otherwise the state will not reimburse Manitou Springs for hauling it if the city qualifies for disaster relief money.

On Monday, Gov. John Hickenlooper declared a disaster emergency in relation to Friday's flash flood - authorizing $400,000 to aid Manitou Springs and El Paso County.

Survey crews also began planning to how fix two massive sections of Manitou Avenue that eroded leading to and from U.S. 24 on the west end of the city.

Two, 30- to 40-foot sections of roadway crumbled in Friday's flood, leaving the road unusable, said Bob Wilson, a Colorado Department of Transportation spokesman. The flood caused asphalt from the shoulder and parts of the westbound lanes to slide down the hillside.

The road - which provides business access for U.S. 24 - will likely be closed at least a month, he said.

The city's number one priority Monday was cleanup "and positioning ourselves for the next big storm," said Jack Benson, the city's administrator.

The woman thought to be missing after being swept off her feet Friday was found safe, accounting for all three people who were reported missing on Friday, said Manitou Springs police Chief Joe Ribeiro. He said the woman did not want to share information on her injuries.

Meanwhile, heavy equipment rumbled along the banks of Fountain Creek as business owners along Canon Avenue sifted through their wares to see what could be cleaned and saved.

The deadline of this weekend's race added pressure to business owners, including Julia Wright, one of the owners of Commonwheel Artists Co-op.

"I am really stressed," Wright said Monday morning. "We want to open tomorrow. That's our goal.

The foot traffic generated by "thousands of people coming from around the country" is important to all businesses in the town at the foot of Pikes Peak. She showed concern and urgency to get the town cleaned up in the next few days.

"This would not be a good introduction to Manitou," Wright said.

At least 1,000 volunteers helped Saturday and Sunday with another 200 working Monday morning, said Kelly Snyder, who helped coordinate volunteer and disaster relief efforts for Manitou Springs.

City officials planned to open a Disaster Assistance Center on Tuesday and Wednesday at Venue 515, 515 Manitou Ave., to offer services, including insurance, health or debris removal assistance.

At about 3:45 p.m. Monday, the latest batch of storms to hamper cleanup efforts began to subside. The hordes of volunteers were replaced by city residents who peered into Fountain Creek to watch the waters rise.

"Just got to keep your eyes on it and watch," said Kevin Cordtz, who lived in an apartment building a couple hundred feet from the Commonwheel Artists Co-op.

Moments later, a man carrying a yellow umbrella joined Cordtz in looking at the creek.

Then he kept on walking through the rain.

"Just keeps on giving, doesn't it?" the man said.

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Contact Jakob Rodgers: 476-1654

Twitter @jakobrodgers

Facebook Jakob Rodgers

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