LYONS, Colo. – With rain still falling and the flood threat still real, rescuers were struggling to reach dozens of people cut off by flooding in Colorado mountain communities, while residents in the Denver area and other downstream communities were warned to stay off flooded streets.
The towns of Lyons, Jamestown and others in the Rocky Mountain foothills have been isolated by flooding and without power or telephone since rain hanging over the region all week intensified late Wednesday and Thursday. At least three people were killed and another was missing, and hundreds were forced to seek shelter up and down Colorado’s populated Front Range.
In Lyons, residents took shelter on higher ground, including some at an elementary school. Although everyone was believed to be safe, the deluge was expected to continue into today.
“There’s no way out of town. There’s no way into town. So, basically, now we’re just on an island,” said Jason Stillman, 37, who was forced with his fiancee to evacuate their home in Lyons at about 3 a.m. after a nearby river began to overflow into the street.
Stillman went back to his neighborhood in the afternoon and saw how fast-moving water had overturned cars and swept away homes at a nearby trailer park.
“Water was just coming up over the bridge,” he said. “All kinds of debris and trees were just slamming into the bridge. Just surreal.”
The Colorado National Guard began trucking people out of Lyons on Thursday evening.
The University of Colorado canceled classes at least through today after a quarter of its buildings were flooded. Students in family housing near Boulder Creek were also forced to leave.
To the north, residents along the Big Thompson Canyon in Larimer County, scene of the deadliest flash flood in state history in 1976, were also evacuated.
Water roaring across U.S. Highway 36 south of Lyons prevented residents from leaving the Crestview subdivision, so Howard Wachtel arranged for someone to meet him at a roadblock for a ride to a gas station. He needed more gasoline to keep his generator running so he could pump water out of his basement.
“This is more like something out of the Bible. I saw one of my neighbors building an ark,” he joked, over the sound of the rushing water.
President Barack Obama signed an emergency declaration Thursday night, freeing federal aid and allowing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster relief efforts.
The rain has been produced by a low pressure system that has been stationed over Nevada since late Sunday, said National Weather Service meteorologist Todd Dankers in Boulder.
The low has drawn subtropical moisture from the Mexican mainland over New Mexico and into the Rockies’ foothills in Colorado – and it’s been trapped by a stationary upper level ridge over the Great Plains and another system over the Great Lakes, Dankers said. The moisture becomes rain when it hits the mountains, the end result of a system he described as “a monsoon conveyer belt.”