LYONS, Colo. – The cars that normally clog Main Street in Lyons on the way to Rocky Mountain National Park have been replaced by military supply trucks. Shop owners in Estes Park hurriedly cleared their wares in fear that the Big Thompson River will rise again. A plywood sign encouraged residents mucking out their homes to “Hang in there.”
Days of rain and floods have remade the outdoorsy mountain communities in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain foothills affectionately known as the “Gore-Tex Vortex” from a paradise into a disaster area with little in the way of supplies or services, and more rain falling Sunday.
The string of communities from Boulder to Estes Park, the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park, is a base for backpackers and nature lovers where blue-collar and yuppie sensibilities exist side by side. Now, roadways have crumbled, scenic bridges are destroyed, the site of the bluegrass festival is washed out and most shops are closed.
Chris Rodes, one of Lyons’ newest residents, said the change is so drastic that he is considering moving away just two weeks after settling there.
“It’s not the same,” Rodes said. “All these beautiful places, it’s just brown mud.”
Estes Park town administrator Frank Lancaster said visitors who would normally flock there during the golden September days should stay away for at least a month, but it could take a year or longer for many of the mountain roadways to be repaired.
Meanwhile, people were still trapped, the nearby hamlet of Glen Haven has been “destroyed” and the continuing rain threatened a new round of flooding, he said.
“We are all crossing our fingers and praying” he said.
The residents who remained or began trickling back – if they were allowed to do so – were left to watch out for one another. Restaurateurs and grocers in Lyons were distributing food to their neighbors as others arrived in groups carrying supplies.
Scott Martin, 25, drove the half-hour from Boulder on Saturday to deliver drinking water and gasoline to a friend’s parents. He fled Lyons amid a torrential downpour Wednesday night after the mountain stream that cuts through town gushed into his basement.
Martin grew up tubing down the river and hiking the mountains, and like many residents, he still jumps in the water after work. Looking into the cottonwood and aspen trees at the outskirts of town, he wondered when he would be able to do those things again.
“Best case, it’s just mud everywhere; in everyone’s yard and all the streets,” he said.
From the mountain communities east to the plains city of Fort Morgan, numerous pockets of individuals remained cut off by the flooding. Sunday’s rain hampered the helicopter searches, and rescuers trekked by ground up dangerous canyon roads to reach some of those homes isolated since Wednesday.
The surging waters have been deadly, with four people confirmed dead and two more missing and presumed dead after their homes were swept away.
Some 1,500 homes have been destroyed and about 17,500 have been damaged, according to an initial estimate released by the Colorado Office of Emergency Management.
In addition, 11,700 people left their homes, and a total of 1,253 people have not been heard from, state emergency officials said.