LYONS, Colo. – Residents displaced by last week’s flooding in the Colorado canyon town of Lyons were allowed past National Guard roadblocks Thursday to find a scene of tangled power lines, downed utility poles, mud-caked homes and vehicles, and work crews furiously clearing debris and trying to restore power, water and sewer service.
Under tight security, hundreds of Lyons evacuees were given just two hours to check on their homes and leave. On Sept. 12, the St. Vrain River destroyed dozens of homes, a trailer park, two town bridges and sections of the only road in and out of the picturesque town of 1,600 framed by sandstone cliffs.
Evacuees had to clear several roadblocks to get in. Boulder County sheriff’s deputies roamed the community, checking residents’ IDs out of concern that overcrowding would interfere with workers using heavy machinery.
Bob Ruthrauff, 84, found his home intact but was repelled by the smell of rotting food when he opened his door. He spent his two hours in town getting rid of the spoilage but was grateful. “We’re very lucky. We came home to a dry home,” Ruthrauff said.
Nearby, people picked through damaged homes. A white pickup, a lawn tractor and telephone poles sat in the river, which still ran high.
Brenna Willis found huge mounds of mud in her yard and a foot of stagnant water inside her house. In her shed, two mountain bikes were covered with muck. Her winter clothes were muddy rags.
“It’s frustrating. I want to start drying the house out because everything’s wet. It’s wet in there and it’s starting to smell,” Willis said.
“It was paradise, but now it looks like it will be a lot of construction,” said Heather Sakai, whose first-floor rental was flooded.
Sakai makes herbal medicine and is an accountant; she lost her equipment, papers – and 30 feet of her backyard to the river. She said she wanted to stay but was sick of the stench of sewage.
The body of a flood victim was found near Lyons on Thursday, bringing the Colorado flood death toll to seven. Three people in neighboring Larimer County were missing and presumed dead.
Boulder County authorities identified the latest victim as Gerald Boland, an 80-year-old retired teacher and basketball coach. Neighbors said Boland took his wife to safety Sept. 12 but defied a mandatory evacuation order and tried to go back to their home amid the flooding. An autopsy was planned.
The number of people unaccounted for has plunged to about 140, thanks to rescues and restored communications.
Gov. John Hickenlooper appointed a Colorado executive to orchestrate the state’s recovery efforts and a transportation group focused on expediting the rebuilding of highways and bridges.
Englewood-based IHS Inc. Executive Chairman Jerre Stead will oversee rebuilding and advocate for federal funding, Hickenlooper said. IHS is an information firm with experts in energy and economics.