DENVER, Colo.—Coloradans have been praying for rain, but this past week’s weather is not what they were asking for, as last year’s “summer of fires” has suddenly turned into this year’s “summer of floods.”
In the past five days, parts of the state have received a year’s worth of rain. The deluge was supposed to take a break Saturday night, but the entire Front Range is under a flash flood warning—from the Wyoming border south 130 miles to Colorado Springs—until 6 p.m. Sunday, as more storms blow across the state.
On Friday, several of Colorado’s major waterways were above flood stage: the Cache Le Poudre River in Fort Collins, Big Thompson River in Loveland, St. Vrain River in Longmont, South Platte River in Greeley and Denver, Bear Creek in Morrison, and Boulder Creek in Boulder. The city of Boulder, just west of Denver, received 8 inches of rain within hours, turning the Boulder Creek into raging rapids, destroying much of the college town. In addition, feeder creeks and streams in the foothills above metro Denver rose several feet, washing away roads and cutting off access to some mountain villages.
Jamestown’s 300 residents pulled together when the Little Jim Creek swelled, turning their small community into an island. Residents built zip lines from one side of the swollen creek to the other so that food and medical supplies could be delivered to those stranded, according to The Denver Post. For two days, friends and family waited for news on loved ones as the village lost power, water, and phone service. The Colorado National Guard evacuated the residents by helicopter on Friday. One resident didn’t survive, said Andrew Barth, spokesman for the Boulder Office of Emergency Management.
So far, the Colorado National Guard has rescued more than 12,000 people, including dozens of fifth grade students and their teachers who were trapped at an outdoor education camp near Jamestown. The children’s adventure turned from frightening to exciting when they were airlifted to safety via Chinook helicopters.
“I think what we have here in the last 24 hours is the greatest number of Americans rescued by helicopter since Hurricane Katrina,” said Lt. Mitch Utterback, incident commander with Colorado National Guard, at a news conference Saturday afternoon.
Dozens of roads and highways are closed throughout the state as rushing water has swept away miles of asphalt and collapsed bridges. Online maps of road closures can barely keep up with the rapidly changing situation. In response, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed an executive order declaring 14 counties disaster areas. Federal funding began arriving Friday as the U.S. Department of Transportation made $5 million available in emergency relief funds to help rebuild roads and bridges.
Flooding has claimed four lives so far and more than 500 people are unaccounted for. It’s expected to get worse before it gets better with more rain forecast for Sunday.
Coloradans are now praying for the rain to stop.