July 1, 2013 Updated: July 1, 2013 at 11:00 pm
A quick and intense downpour over the Waldo Canyon burn scar Monday afternoon unleashed a torrent of muddy flood waters into Manitou Springs and western Colorado Springs, damaging 20 homes and forcing the closure of U.S. 24 for several hours.
"It's amazing the power of nature to do all this in such a short time," said Steve Brunette, whose rental unit on Canon Avenue in Manitou Springs was in disarray and chock-full of mud.
Meterologist John Kalina with the National Weather Service in Pueblo said .59 inches of rain fell in the Waldo Canyon burn area in less than 20 minutes.
"That's pretty intense rain rate, and that helped to cause the issues that we're seeing today," he said.
Fortunately, the storm was fast-moving - 30 mph to 35 mph, he said. The flooding could have been much worse if the storm had settled over the burn scar, he said.
Tina Webber, who also lives on Canon Avenue, said she was in her backyard when the downpour started.
"It was raining buckets and all of a sudden I heard this freight train," she said. "I came running around my house and I see this wall of water with this perfect white mattress on the front of it coming down the canyon."
Webber, who rushed to help a neighbor to safety, said nothing, not even sandbags, would've stopped the flooding.
"They would've just been part of the debris going down the hill," she said. "It was an 8-foot wall of black debris and boulders and trees. There was no stopping it."
No injuries were reported, but the El Paso County Sheriff's Office said 20 homes were damaged, six to eight of them significantly.
Businesses were also affected by the flooding.
"A lot of the people were parked in the parking lot so we had to have everyone move their cars out of the lot and up onto the hills because our lot was starting to flood," said Alli Kelley, a server at the Stagecoach Inn on Manitou Avenue.
At Adam's Mountain Cafe, owner Farley McDonough and her employees were shoveling gobs of mud from the patio.
"We sandbagged properly and the inside of the restaurant is fine," McDonough said. "It was in April that we started preparing for debris flows."
McDonough, whose face, clothes and bare feet were covered in mud, said she and her staff will need to be better prepared in the event of another flash flood.
"I will have water boots or mud boots next time," she said. "My flip flops kept getting stuck in the mud so I decided to take them off."
The rain hit about 4:15 p.m. and departed quickly, but the aftermath was felt for hours. By 6 p.m., traffic was nearly at a standstill in Manitou. U.S. 24 from Colorado Springs to Cascade reopened in both directions about 7:15 p.m., the sheriff's office said via Twitter.
Although the water had receded, there was plenty of mud to clean up. And officials kept a wary eye on the sky for more rain and warned residents on the west side and through Ute Pass to seek higher ground if necessary.
The Red Cross opened evacuation shelters at the First Congregational Church of Manitou Springs, 103 Pawnee Ave., and First Presbyterian Church, 105 N. Weber St., in Colorado Springs, according to a Colorado Springs Police Department Facebook post.
The Fountain Creek RV Park at 3023 W. Colorado Ave. was evacuated after the weather service issued a flash flood warning for the Waldo Canyon burn scar. The evacuation was voluntary. More than 160 were asked to leave but were allowed back in on Monday night, according to a news release from the city of Colorado Springs.
Khris Dene, who has lived in the RV park for about three years, said she was asleep after working the night shift when someone came banging on her door. Dene said she threw some clothes on and grabbed her dog and her cat and a jacket in case she couldn't get back home right away.
"I think they're being safe. I could've chose to stay in there and wait until the last minute. But I have animals, and I'm not taking that chance. I'd rather be stuck out here," she said.
Once she had evacuated, she said she checked for the homeless people who camp out underneath the bridge leading into the RV park.
"If they were there," she said, pointing underneath the bridge, "they're washed away because where they sleep, it's gone."
Fire Department spokeswoman Sunny Smaldino said police searched for any homeless campers that might be in the areas to warn them of flood danger.
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