Friday's Updates: Front Range Braces Against Widespread Rain, 'Biblical' Flooding

Sep 13, 2013
Originally published on September 20, 2013 6:06 am

As heavy rains brought wide ranging flood conditions across the state Thursday, the Front Range is bracing for more Friday.

Editor's Note: What started with rainstorms late night Wednesday Sept. 11 quickly escalated to a state wide flood event as water topped or compromised dams, raised normally docile streams, and caused untold property damage. This post collects our updates from events Friday, Sept. 13. Saturday's developments are collected here.

Major updates were placed at the top of this post as they came in. Ongoing developments, photos and links, were updated to a Storify which is embedded below.

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Update 5:50 p.m. - Updates will slow at this point, we will continue to monitor the situation and only update when there is a major development. Southbound I-25 is now open from Highway 34 south. We've posted the most recent update from CDOT on road conditions here.

Update 5:30 p.m. – via Erin O’Toole

In a sign of the widespread impact of flooding in Colorado, a 90-mile stretch of Interstate 25 from the Denver Metro through Northern Colorado remains closed as of early Friday evening.

I-25 southbound is still closed from the Wyoming border to State Highway 402, and northbound I-25 is closed from State Highway 7 just north of Denver to State Highway 14 in Fort Collins.

It’s not clear when transportation officials will be able to reopen the interstate.

“We have crews out there right now who are looking at the viability and the structure of some of the bridges that are in the area, and obviously looking at the roadway in areas where it’s been overtopped, where the water has come up and over,” says CDOT spokeswoman Amy Ford. “We want to make 100 percent sure that those roadways are safe, and the bridges, before we send people back out onto the road – and we’re certainly hoping that that might be something that can happen sometime tonight [Friday].”

Ford says it’s possible there may be local traffic on portions of I-25 that aren’t closed. Transportation officials are still encouraging people to be on the roads only if necessary.

Update 5:03 p.m. - via Cody Crouch on Twitter: Here's a view of the flooding in Greeley from the air.

Update 5:00 p.m. – via Grace Hood

In Boulder County, helicopters are rescuing stranded residents in the small town of Jamestown, which saw access completely cut off by flooding. Further north in Larimer County, Sheriff Justin Smith says authorities there are targeting residents with medical problems for evacuations, though hundreds — if not thousands — remain stranded.

“I personally can’t imagine the scope of what this is going to be for aviation assets to get in a reach people,” said Smith.

While parts of Colorado finally saw sunshine Friday, forecasts are predicting that more rain could be on the way.

Update 4:45 p.m. - one of storylines from Friday was the Colorado National Guard getting up to isolated Lyons to evacuate the residents. This was accomplished by large, high clearence trucks. The guard just sent out some raw video of their evacuation of Lyons, which we're embedding below.

Update 3:57 p.m. - An unfortunate bit of news, The Denver Post is reporting that officials have found the body of the reported missing woman in Boulder. She was reported missing on Linden Drive in Boulder, where another individual - a male fatality - was recovered Thursday. This now brings the total lives lost in the flood event to four; one male in Jamestown in a structure collapse, two in Boulder on Linden, and a male in Colorado Springs. There is potentially more bad news on the horizon as The Daily Camera is reporting that there are currently 80 unaccounted for.

Update 3:15 p.m. - Colorado State University just announced that after consulting with local authorities Saturday's football game versus CalPoly will be played as scheduled at Hughes Stadium. This stands in contrast to CU, which announced earlier that they would be postponing their game against Fresno.

Update 3:00 p.m. - Via Nathan Heffel, here’s what we know:

A brief respite from the rain has brought into perspective the large scale of the flooding seen across the Rocky Mountain foothills of Colorado.

With scores of area roadways impassible or damaged by the days long rainfall, the Colorado Department of Transportation has urged that travelers in Boulder, Larimer, Weld,  Jefferson, Clear Creek and Gilpin are to avoid travel unless absolutely necessary. Interstate 25 the main artery from Denver north to Cheyenne remains closed I-25 southbound from the Wyoming border to SH402 and northbound from SH 7 to SH14.

The University of Colorado Boulder says it will close the campus through Saturday and will postpone the scheduled CU Buffs/Fresno State football game. This is only the third time the school has postponed a game. Reports say the Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy and the 9/11 terrorist attacks have been the only other reasons for a postponement.

As rain gave way to sunlight, photos and video of people playing in the flood waters prompted the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to urge people not to venture into the flood waters. The flood waters are unsafe as they may be contaminated with raw and partially treated sewage.

Ron Falco with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment says as roadways are washed away by floods, unseen dangers can be left in the water.

“So when roads are washed away, the sewer lines that are also running maybe down the roadways can also be washed out, so that raw or partially treated sewage can enter into waterways,” said Falco.

“Well we do have reports of line breaks,” continued Flaco, “and we do have reports of sewage treatment plants having to shut down and bypass so we do belive that this has occurred in some instances and so the flood waters can potentially contain pathogens that can make people sick.”

Falco advises anyone coming in contact with flood waters to rinse off thoroughly with warm water. If you have concerns or become ill, to contact your physician.

Update 2:55 p.m. - Here's a view of Boulder from Cody Crouch. He's on the local news helicopter.

Update 1:17 p.m. – The city of Greeley is making a voluntary evacuation request for residents and businesses in the floodway and 100-year floodplain along the Poudre to the north and the Platte to the west of Greeley. The city has a map here so you can determine if you are in the affected area – the red area delineates the floodway, the white hashes the floodplain.

The city indicates that the peak of flooding will likely be Friday afternoon. From the release:

Due to overnight rainfall and information from upstream reports, localized flooding along the Poudre River in west and north Greeley as well as flooding along the South Platte in south Greeley is anticipated. Flooding along the Poudre will endanger properties to a more significant level than along the South Platte.

There will be contacts made via reverse 911 and Greeley police patrols. The evacuation center is the Greeley Recreation Center, 651 10th Avenue.

Update 12:55 p.m. - Paul S Voakes of Boulder sent us this video. This is Mariposa Avenue, taken Thursday at 6 p.m.

Update 12:28 p.m. - via Luke Runyon

An unknown number of people are still trapped in portions of Big Thompson Canyon and other portions of the foothills in Larimer county. Sheriff Justin Smith says some roadways have been washed out, making rescue efforts extremely dangerous.

“The first thing coming is response and rescue, getting to people that are trapped, getting to these flooded houses,” said Smith. “After that, as soon as these waters come down, it’s going to be recovery. Recovery is going to be a long process.”

Low cloud cover has kept air support from being used, but now conditions have improved so helicopters can get in the air. The Colorado National Guard is working in both Larimer and Boulder County.

Update 11:33 a.m. - The city of Longmont's website crashed earlier Friday morning. They have established a new website and are feeding up-to-date information there: longmontoem.org

Update 11:13 a.m. - Luke Runyon passed this video on to us from Tom Buchalski. It was filmed Thursday along the the Big Thompson near Loveland. Just another demonstration of the power the flood waters have had on the landscape across Colorado.

Update 11:00 a.m. - some good news posted to Twitter by The CU Boulder Police: sunny skies.

Update 10:46 a.m. – via Nathan Heffel

At the 10 a.m. press conference Friday, Mark Beckner, Boulder’s Chief of Police, said flooding across the city has been close to a 25 year event. “I would call it a 35 year event,” said Beckner. “Because in my 35 years, we’ve never had anything this significant.”

Beckner says water rushing into the city from Boulder Canyon was traveling at a high rate of speed flooding numerous intersections and prompting the evacuation of thousands along Boulder Creek.

Because of numerous road closures, travel in or around the city of Boulder is not advised.  “We’re asking people not to come to Boulder unless it’s necessary,” said Beckner. “The reason for that is if you get here, you might not get back out. Most roads are closed, U.S. 36 is closed eastbound, you cannot get out of boulder if you get here.”

“One of the areas open is highway 119. So if you get to Boulder and you need to out, that is one evacuation route you can use,” said Kim Kobel, representative for the Boulder Police and Fire departments.  She says the agencies are already working to assess damage to the city, and have performend numerous search and rescue missions.

“We’ve taken cars that have floated away and piled up in intersections and towed those,’ said Kobel. “So we’re trying to get some things handled before we get another deluge which we are getting.”

Ryan Huff with the University of Colorado Boulder Police says all students on campus are fine, there have been no other injuries to students besides a minor injury Wednesday evening. Campus food halls are open and students are able to access food and water. The campus will remain closed until further notice. He says discussions are occurring about Saturday’s football game.

Update 10:21 a.m. - Briefings are under way in Boulder, Estes Park, and Fort Collins all at the same time. We'll have more information shortly.

In Fort Collins, a National Guard Blackhawk helicopter was spotted in the air. Air resources were made available in Colorado Thursday, but were grounded due to cloud cover and conditions.

Update 9:41 a.m. - CDOT has closed I-25 in both directions from Highway 7 just north of Metro Denver all the way to the Wyoming border because of flooding. This is a staggering 70 miles of interstate that is now closed. Officials continue to state that residents should only travel for emergency purposes, no unnecessary travel, and to remain safely in homes or shelters.

Update 9:26 a.m. – The Colorado Office of Emergency Management’s Emergency Operations Center has moved to Level 1 activation.

That means they are fully engaged to support complex incidents, which the increased flooding across the Front Range qualifies as.

The Rocky Mountain Area Incident Management Type 2 Team B has also been activated and will be heading to Boulder County. Many in Colorado are already familiar with the Incident Management teams thanks to recent wildfires, now the team will be assisting with the flooding.

Update 8:52 a.m. - For Larimer County, this just in from the Larimer Sheriff on Twitter:

Update 8:42 a.m. – A few words from Governor Hickenlooper’s news conference this morning:

The Governor says the state is receiving aid offers: “Again we’re continuing to get calls of support from neighboring states, we’re in the process now of recognizing what types of assets we need in terms of doing the assessment once this rain begins to recede. We’re certainly are going to need help in the recovery.

Hickenlooper was in frequent communication with the Federal Government overnight: “We’re very grateful to FEMA the Federal Emergency Management Agency, as well as the department of homeland security and the white house. I was talking to people in the WH at 8 last night trying to get our emergency declaration signed, at night, so we could keep people working around the clock and they did that.”

Governor Hickenlooper says folks need to stay out of the flooded areas: “Stay outta your vehicle if possible stay home if your home is in a safe place. Obviously if you’re being told to evacuate then you need to evacuate. But be ready be prepared for whatever your local emergency managers are telling you.”

Again, the state is asking everyone to stay off the roads, even Hickenlooper: “If at all possible, stay off the roads. The Colorado Department of Transportation has issued an essential traffic only restriction and that’s for Jefferson, Larimer, Boulder and Clear Creek Counties we’re having trouble getting the emergency management vehicles around the congestion has been such, so we’re trying to get people at least for a couple hours to stay off the roads so we can get help to where it most needs to be.”

Update 8:23 a.m. – Travel conditions continue to deteriorate across the Front Range. CDOT has closed Northbound I-25 between Highway 7 (north of Denver Metro) to Hwy 14 (Fort Collins) due to flooding.

That is a 24 mile stretch of interstate.

Officials continue to stress that everyone avoid unnecessary travel. Travelers in Boulder, Larimer, Jefferson and Clear Creek counties should avoid travel on State Highways and Interstates, essential travel only.

Update 8:03 a.m. - This just in via the City of Fort Collins on Twitter:

Update 7:52 a.m. - Due to the very uncertain transportation conditions that exist in Fort Collins, Colorado State University is closed Friday. According to the university, there is no serious flooding on campus. Updates can be found at safety.colostate.edu.

Conditions continue to be uncertain, with flooding in low areas. The Larimer Sheriff askes that residents remain off the roads due to the number of closures.

Update 7:47 a.m. – via Nathan Heffel

Captain Darin Overstreet of the Colorado National Guard says a little over 100 gaurdsman are assisting in rescue efforts including a mission in Lyons that has been cut off since early Thursday.

“We’ve been tasked with evacuating approximately 2,000 citizens from the town of Lyons,” said Overstreet. “And we have I think about 14 High Clearance Vehicles working up there today working on that mission.”

Overstreet says the mission to evacuate Lyons could take all day depending on weather conditions across the area. The military vehicles are necessary, after the flood waters have overtaken the roads, even flooding out the famed Planet Bluegrass music venue.

“They’re high clearance tactical vehicles, they can actually get through some of the waterways that a normal vehicle can’t through, and they are either transporting equipment or people or whatever is needed,” said 1st Lt. Skye Robinson of the Colorado National Guard.

Robinson says multiple armories have soldiers helping with relief efforts using specialized equipment to get to cut off communities.

Update 7:15 a.m. – via Erin O’Toole

Boulder's police chief says things are looking better, just a few hours after city officials sent notice to about 4,000 people living along Boulder Creek to leave their homes.

Chief Mark Beckner said earlier Friday morning the creek has dropped from its peak flow. He tells the Daily camera conditions remain dangerous, adding that he is shocked at the volume of water still flowing into the streets.

In Fort Collins, several neighborhoods along the Poudre River were evacuated overnight, with the river expected to rise to nearly 2 feet above flood stage Friday morning.

Residents were also evacuated along the Big Thompson canyon in Larimer County, scene of the deadliest flash flood in Colorado history back in the 1970s.

Update 6:30 a.m. - The Associated Press has posted raw video for the flooding overnight and the Governor's news conference. The eerie sounds of running water and the flood sirens has an impact.

Update 6:10 a.m. – Longmont, in Boulder County, is split by the flooding St. Vrain river and additional evacuations have been requested by the city.

Residents to the south of Quail Road between Main Street and 119th Street are being asked to evacuate to Niwot High School due to flooding along Dry Creek.

There is no travel between the north and south of Longmont, the major routes have been closed due to flooding [.pdf]. This includes Main Street (Highway 287), Hover Rd, and Airport Rd.

County officials continue to stress that everyone avoid unnecessary travel and stay in their homes. If you do drive, avoid standing water, as there is no way to gauge the depth.

This video was posted by Payton Peterson, and shows off the flooding of the St. Vrain that inundated Longmont Thursday.

Update 6:00 a.m. – The town of Lyons is still isolated from the rest of the Front Range by water and impassable roads.

The Boulder Office of Emergency Management says that the Colorado National Guard will start assisting with evacuations when day breaks. The National Guard made it into Lyons last night after high clearance vehicles arrived on scene.

Supplies were delivered Thursday to citizens hunkered in the mountain town and a few patients were evacuated in the evening. Residents should continue to drink bottled water or boil their water after the town’s water treatment facility was overwhelmed by flood water.

Update 5:30 a.m. - The number of road closures across the Front Range is extensive, and growing. 7 News has a list posted here. Their school closure list is here.

For the graphically inclined, the Colorado Department of Transportation map at cotrip.org shows the wide ranging nature of the road closures.

Update 5:10 a.m. – via Grace Hood

Big Thompson canyon resident Sharon Riggert evacuated her home Thursday afternoon and spent the night at a Loveland shelter.

"It's going to be bad. Already there's damage in the canyon and the river is so high right now," said Rigger. She says she had little time to gather belongings before it was time to leave.

Earlier Friday, the National Weather Service reported that water flows in the Big Thompson canyon reached levels higher than the 1976 flash flood – the deadliest in Colorado history.

Rain continued to fall in Larimer County last night causing the both the Big Thompson and Poudre rivers to rise rapidly. It prompted additional evacuations in the area.

“Right now the flood conditions are still ongoing,” said Bill Nelson with the Larimer County Sheriff’s office. “It’s a pretty hazardous situation to be close to any possible stream in Larimer County that’s got high water. We’re asking people to please stay away from them, stay out of the rivers…”

Despite sending out notification calls and attempting to knock on doors, Nelson says some residents right now are stranded.

Due to the roads being washed out in both canyons and debris being on the roads we can’t get to them,” said Nelson. “And until the system lets up and we get some cloud cover that rises high enough to fly it with helicopters we’re having a lot of difficulty figuring out exactly what we have out there.”

Our original post continues:

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Flood warnings remain in place for the entire Front Range. The National Weather Service had described the water levels as 'biblical' Thursday. Reporter Luke Runyon noted on Twitter that it was an appropriate adjective given the state's recent run of drought and wildfires.

State wide, the flooding has killed three – one in Jamestown when a structure collapsed, another in Colorado Springs, and the third in Boulder – where a woman is also missing.

The Denver Post reports that State Climatologist Nolan Doesken notes that these aren’t the worst floods in Colorado’s history, ‘they are unusual for being so widespread.’

"This is not unprecedented," Doesken tells The Post. "It is simply not common."

Rebuilding and repair will be the order once the waters recede, the Associated Press reporting Thursday night that President Obama has approved government aid for Boulder, Larimer and El Paso counties.

Boulder County

Tweeting overnight that “things are looking better,” Boulder Police Chief Mark Beckner toured the city of Boulder. He told the Daily Camera that there will be a lot of work to clean up the city.

The county is still asking residents to remain indoors and off the roads, many still remain a hazard due to conditions or debris. The University of Colorado’s Boulder campus continues to be closed through Friday, with some evacuations still in place overnight impacting several housing units.

“With the weather conditions continuing to be unpredictable, we’re going to exercise caution and keep the current evacuation in place,” said Chancellor Philip DiStefano in a release. “This will be revisited again on Friday as early as we can make a determination that the units are safe.”

The same release stated that 25 percent of campus buildings have some form of water damage.

In Longmont, city facilities remain closed Friday with road closures and evacuations in place [.pdf] as the flood St. Vrain River bisects the city. The Times-Call writes that city managers are describing the flooding in Longmont as a “500-year” event. As we reported yesterday, the city managers had declared a city emergency.

The only way either in or out of Longmont at the moment is I-25 and Highway 66 to Main Street, north-south travel is cut off by the flooding of the St. Vrain.

Northern Colorado

The Poudre River has continued to rise in Fort Collins, approaching 10ft at the river mouth overnight and nearly 12ft at Lincoln ave. Our colleague Dave Dennis tells us that the Poudre is normally around 2ft this time of year.

Showers remain likely in the area, diminishing until Sunday afternoon according to the forecast.

Loveland closed Wilson Ave overnight, acknowledging that the Big Thompson has ‘split the city in half.’ Loveland wants residents to remain off the roads, something all of the municipalities have echoed, keeping roads clear for emergency services.

Southern Colorado

The Gazette is reporting that the National Weather Service is forecasting steady storms that will scatter by the afternoon, dryly writing that “rainfall totals are a crap shoot.”

Our colleagues in Colorado Springs at KRCC continue to cover flooding in the south. KRCC reports Friday morning that the heavy rains have undone the flood mitigation work done post Waldo Canyon fire.