Colorado Floods: Small Town Disaster Update

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Flood waters at the Estes Park Valley Library in Colorado. The photographer, Ulugbeck Khudoynazarov, who is from Uzbekistan, has worked in Estes Park for three months, but spent the afternoon of September 12 photographing flooded streets. He said that in Uzbekistan, “I have seen rain for one or two days, but I have never seen a flood like this before.” Photo by eyewitness Ulugbeck Khudoynazarov, used with permission. All rights reserved.

Colorado Flooding: Trapped in a Small Mountain Town

When residents were cut off from their loved ones with the failure of all communication systems in Estes Park the Larimer County Website soon became their only source of information. At 7:48 a.m. emergency evacuation notices were sent to 598 homes in the Big Thompson Area off Highway 34.

Many local residents still recall the Big Thompson Flood of 1976, when 143 people were killed by flash floods in this same area, and eagerly complied with the early morning evacuation.

At 9:21 a.m. the unthinkable occurred. The Larimer County Emergency Information posted that “the eastbound lane of Highway 34 in Big Thompson Canyon at mile marker 74.5 collapsed. The westbound lane has a large crack through it and has become unstable, and at this time the road is completely impassable.”

Cars and trucks were in the water, thoughts of the Big Thompson Flood rushed through the minds of local residents, and those who remained in Estes Park knew they would be stranded for days to come.

Colorado Evacuations Begin

At 10:24 a.m evacuation centers were announced for Loveland, Lyons, and Estes Park. At 12:30 p.m. the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office announced a complete evacuation of Big Thompson Canyon. Residents east of the collapsed section of road were sent to Loveland, residents to the west were sent into the already flooding Estes Park, and anyone trapped by a compromised bridge or dangerous road section was told to stay in their home and prepare a plan to reach higher ground “at a moment’s notice.”

After four in the afternoon it became clear that anyone in the towns of Lyons and Estes Park would be stranded for some time. The land to the north of Estes Park remains scarred by record-breaking wildfires that occurred over the past two years, and as the nearby Poudre River  also began to overflow its banks the Sheriff’s Department issued evacuation orders for residents living between Buckhorn Road and Masonville.

Residents near County Road 25E were told the county roads were washed out.

There would be no evacuation. These residents were also advised to remain in their homes and prepare to leave for higher ground at a moment’s notice.

By 8 p.m. residents of the Poudre River corridor from Stove Prairie to the Larimer County/Weld County border were told to prepare to evacuate at a moment’s notice or move to higher ground if they become trapped by flooded roads as even more rain is expected overnight and in the morning. There were also evacuations in Jamestown.

The above video was taken by Loveland resident Randy Kady, and shows the Big Thompson River moving into the City of Loveland near Kady’s home. Kady expects flood waters to reach his home by morning, but hopes to avoid evacuation.

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