Mainers describe wet chaos in Colorado

Water runs freely down Topaz Drive as heavy rains cause severe flooding in Boulder, Colorado September 12, 2013.
MARK LEFFINGWELL | REUTERS
Water runs freely down Topaz Drive as heavy rains cause severe flooding in Boulder, Colorado September 12, 2013.
Posted Sept. 14, 2013, at 9:45 a.m.
Last modified Sept. 14, 2013, at 3:15 p.m.

Sasha Barajas used to live in Auburn. She knows what the Androscoggin River looks like after a heavy rain. On Thursday night, when the creek in front of her house in Boulder started to look like that, she knew it was time to get out.

“The water in my front yard was almost up to my knees,” Barajas said Friday night. “It was a close call on whether we’d be able to drive out of there.”

With the help of a neighbor, Barajas rounded up her cat and they headed for higher ground, navigating over roads that were disappearing beneath the water. She spent the night away from her house before there was a pause in the rains Friday afternoon. She was back in her house near Boulder Creek on Friday night, but for how long?

“We had a little reprieve earlier,” said Barajas, who works at the local university. “People were able to go out and shovel mud and debris off the roads. But it’s dark and gray over the Flatirons right now. There’s another threat of rain for tonight, so I’m prepared to make a quick getaway.”

Barajas said she has several friends who were forced to evacuate their apartments and houses. They were offering to help Barajas in spite of their own circumstances. For the former Auburn woman, that kind of generosity during a weather crisis seemed very familiar.

“It reminds me,” she said, “of the people in Maine.”

For Gary Lewis, the site of dozens of cars floating around in a hotel parking lot really put things into perspective: Colorado is in trouble and the rain just keeps coming.

“In all my years of coming out here, I’ve never seen anything like this,” the Casco man said Friday. “The cars out there are actually washing through the parking lot. One car had water all the way up to the bottom of the steering wheel. The cup holders are full of muddy water.”

Lewis flew into Boulder this week for his company’s yearly retreat. It was supposed to be all about mixing work and leisure among the Rocky Mountains. Instead, the offices have been closed for two days. Most roadways are also closed and thousands are trapped.

“People are frustrated,” Lewis said. “Some of them need to get out of town, but they’re stuck. You don’t go out sightseeing; you don’t go riding around in your car. It’s stay put, and wait for it to clear off.”

Four people have been killed in the flooding. Lewis said he was concerned about people he knows who are up in the mountains, but there is not much information coming down.

“I’ve been watching the reports on TV to find out what’s happening, but we’re not hearing much,” he said.

Lewis is expected to fly back to Maine on Monday. Of course, that depends on whether he can get to the airport. On Friday afternoon, he had hopes that it would happen, but he was also worried about the people he would leave behind.

“It’s going to take them weeks and weeks to recover from this,” Lewis said. “But right now, the sun has broken through. The sun is actually shining for the first time all week. People are hopeful that it’s coming to an end.”

Dustin Trider, from Lewiston but now living in Boulder, has been keeping hometown friends up to date through his Facebook page.

“We are wet, soggy and all looking to buy boats,” Trider wrote. “We have received half of our annual rainfall in about 36 hours. 9-12 inches of rain in those 36 hours. The rain that fell would have equalled about 120 inches of snow! The National Guard is here trying to help, but the water is too deep for them to get into the areas that need the help. Please feel free to send arm floaties, life jackets and anything else that floats.”

Cameron Churchill and his wife were monitoring the situation from their Auburn home. Their daughter Amber, studying for her doctorate at the University of Colorado in Boulder, was right in the thick of it.

Were the parents nervous? You bet, especially since some of the apartments in Amber’s complex were filled with water.

“The basement apartments were flooded right up to the ceilings,” Cameron said. “She had all her stuff ready to evacuate.”

Amber’s apartment is higher up in the complex, and even though there was no power to the building Friday afternoon, she was safe, Cameron said.

Besides, she’s from Maine. She knows how to handle a weather crisis.

“She grew up right here,” Cameron said. “She also did some of her grad work in Alaska. She knows what to do. She’s going to be just fine, although it does get a little hairy.”

A little hairy because people have died and there are things like mudslides to worry about as well as rising waters. For the Churchills, the coming weekend will probably be filled with the latest news reports out of Colorado and the occasional calls from their daughter.

“We’re keeping our fingers crossed,” Cameron said. “They’re not out of the woods yet because they’re looking at another day or two of rain.”

Aaron Vanasse of Auburn has been living in Fort Collins since 2011. Fort Collins has fared a little better than other places, he said, because the infrastructure was shored up a few years ago after major flooding. People living in the foothills are not so fortunate.

“It’s going to take them weeks or months to dig out,” Vanasse said.

He was able to drive around a bit and look over the damage in and around Fort Collins. He described a hell of water, with cars afloat and tiny streams turned into raging rivers.

“It looked like the Androscoggin River,” he said of one swollen creek.

Vanasse said that for the past week, it’s been either drizzling or downright pouring. The soil, ravaged from recent wildfires, cannot handle that much precipitation, so the rainwater has nowhere to go.

“They’re calling it the 100-year storm,” Vanasse said. “It’s just a huge volume of water. For a place that gets 300 days of sunshine each year, it’s pretty disturbing.”

Disturbing and a little frightening, but not a deal-breaker. It was miserable the past week, Vanasse said, but he has no plans to leave Colorado when it’s over. Lots of sun, low humidity and an absence of things like tornadoes and hurricanes keep him hooked on the place.

“I’ve lived everywhere in the country,” Vanasse said. “And this is Nirvana.”

By 3 p.m., the clouds were parting some over the Rocky Mountains and the sun was shining through. Nobody knew for sure whether the rain was gone for good, but the break afforded rescue crews a chance to get in and help people in small, ravaged areas like Lyons.

“I can see blue sky right now,” Vanasse said. “They’re helicoptering things like food and water and medical supplies to those areas.”

Around Fort Collins, Vanasse could see people out jogging and biking, engaging in leisurely activities for the first time in a week.

Darby Wright, formerly of Lewiston, is living in the Denver metro area. She described a scene that sounded like the chaos of a Maine blizzard but on a much broader scale.

“There’s large amounts of flooding, road closures and school cancellations in the Boulder and Estes Park areas,” she wrote. “The Denver metro area has some minor flooding left over and there are lots of road crews out repairing roads and downed power lines, but the major damage is the Boulder/Estes Park areas.”

For Barajas, who scrambled out of her home Thursday night with her cat and neighbor, the past year out west has been an adventure. She says she has no plans to leave Boulder, even if it has been a little bit wild.

“The fires last year and now this flooding,” she said. “Welcome to Colorado!”

Distributed by MCT Information Services

 

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