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Personal stories from the Manitou Springs flood: No outrunning the torrent

August 10, 2013 Updated: August 11, 2013 at 7:54 pm
Caption +
Firefighters do a walk-through of a house damaged by a flash flood that hit Manitou Springs Friday after more than an inch of rain fell on the Waldo Canyon burn scar. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette

Here's a roundup of what people went through during Friday's flood:

No outrunning the torrent

Running up Canon Avenue, Erin Collyer stopped cold.

"I don't know if I heard the rush coming or sensed it," she said.

As she raced Friday night toward her house high on Canon Avenue, Collyer was trapped in one of the worst flash floods to hit Manitou Springs in decades.

The water hit hard, rising to her waist and nearly sucking her down the street. She remembered holding onto a pole - first as vehicles rushed past her, then as the roof of a cottage or house began barreling her way.

Instinctively, she recalled buckled her messenger bag around the pole, allowing her more stability. A man across the muddy torrent tried saving another man and his dog, while also throwing her a rope. His plan didn't work.

"I thought for sure I was going to die," Collyer said. "I was screaming for help but then I guess I kicked in like 'I can find my way out of this. I have to.'"

She said the roof edged up to her left shoulder - its advance stopped when the bottom of the structure broke off and rushed downstream.

Unhooking her bag, she swung her body around the pole to a perch and managed to leap across the muddy water, and then sought higher ground.

On Saturday morning, she said she wished she had never headed up Canon Avenue in the first place.

Collyer had hoped to meet up with her sister at her house, but the fact that she even tried the mad dash speaks to a dangerous level of comfort garnered in the last couple weeks.

"I guess we were getting complacent with that," she said. "And we knew with this one - I knew; I sensed it and I felt that this one was real - but I felt like I had enough time to get home.

"No. Won't ever, ever take that chance again."

Muddy mess cancels church

There will be no service Sunday at Timberline Baptist Church.

The church, at 512 Canon Ave., was among structures hit hard by the flood.

The building was "destroyed underneath," said Pastor Dan Parton. "Downstairs it's totally decimated."

The lower level of the church, which has a congregation of about 70 and was built in 1970, included the fellowship hall and Sunday school rooms, he said.

Barton said he went in the back door to survey the damage downstairs and found the destruction "unbelievable."

Worse yet, the church was not insured for flooding.

"Right now, we're just looking for answers and we've got a lot of rebuilding to do," Barton said.

A dirty, but necessary job

Manitou Springs resident David Hunter was waist deep in the muck.

He donated part of his Saturday to help keep the drain clean near the Manitou Spa building as shops cleared out the mud and debris from Friday night's flood.

With a beard hanging halfway down his chest and wearing a leather hat, his spirits were good, like most volunteers helping with the recovery.

He said he had found a potato, then held up an item that he was unable to identify about the size of a tennis ball.

"I don't know what this is," he said, tossing it onto a nearby pile of muck and mud.

Then he bent over again, reaching deep into the water, searching for other items plugging the drain.

Nowhere to hide

From her cottage on Canon Avenue, Tammy Pfaffl, saw the floodwaters roaring toward her but there was nothing she could to about it.

Within minutes, it pushed through her door, engulfing her cottage and drenching her furniture and belongings.

"I saw the creek crest, and I stood up and looked at it, and it was a second later a tidal wave surrounded us and it broke in the door like a freight train," she said.

Everything "was floating. The refrigerator was floating, the furniture was floating. I couldn't get out."

Pfaffl, 44, was trapped in waist-high water for about a half hour - the longest half hour of her life. The water eventually subsided and she was able to walk out on her own.

Her three cats survived, wet but alive, she said.

But she thought she might not make it.

People were standing in Canon Avenue watching her ordeal.

"I could see people mouthing the words: 'I'm sorry.' There was nothing they could do," she said. "The gas line was broken and I smelled the gas and there was water everywhere. I was very afraid."

Escape was up, not out

Lynn Kent, owner of Calamity Kites Cafe in the Manitou Spa building said she was trying to get customers to leave the business as the city's flood alarms went off on Friday, but by the time they were ready to leave, she told them to go to the top floor of the building rather than out the front door.

"I saw the water throwing manhole covers up into the air and the water shooting up like geysers. It was like a war zone out there," Kent said. "I just prayed. God please help. We ended up suffering just minimal damage here."

Undone repair averts danger

Verna Ar? owner of a building at 108 Canon Ave. that houses the Silver Sparrow gift shop, was fuming Saturday about a natural gas line that Colorado Springs Utilities built over Fountain Creek on the bottom of a bridge to her building. The line was damaged during a smaller flood last month and she said Friday's flood swept the bridge away and could have resulted in a gas leak if the line had been in place.

"I had to replace that bridge during the last flood in 1999, and Utilities put the gas line under the bridge over my objections. The gas line was hit by a big boulder in the flood last month and was broken, but they plugged it off. They (Utilities) told me I had to put in a new line in the same place, and if I had the whole neighborhood would haven been at risk in this flood," Ar?said.

- Jakob Rodgers, Garrison Wells and Wayne Heilman/The Gazette

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