Thursday's Updates: Intense Rains Cause Flooding, Evacuations Across Front Range Areas

Sep 12, 2013
Originally published on September 20, 2013 6:03 am

Heavy rains have caused road closures, mudslides, power outages, gas leaks and more across Boulder County and along parts of the Front Range. We're following developments.

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 Thursday, Sept. 12. Friday'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 5:51 p.m. - Updates will slow at this point and we will be updating only when there is a major development. The KUNC newsroom will pickup coverage early Friday morning with the continuing flooding situation across the state. A Google Map is now available with emergency flooding information, including closures and shelter locations. A reminder: be mindful of water levels and conditions, be prepared to evacuate if you are in low lying areas near water.

Update 5:23 p.m. - We just spotted this on Twitter. Some bad news for music fans, including the staff of KUNC Music, Planet Bluegrass in Lyons is flooded out. Posted by James Dougherty at 7 News.

Update 5:11 p.m. - An update from our colleagues in Colorado Springs at KRCC: The National Weather Service in Boulder says the recent rains mean the city has received nearly 10 inches of rain just this month. Though the Pikes Peak Region has seen a fraction of Boulder's rain Thursday, flash flood conditions are still of concern. Manitou Springs spokesman Dave Hunting says they’ve been running an Incident Command Center off and on since 9 p.m. Wednesday night.

"We have been monitoring the weather systems that have been flowing up through New Mexico,” said Hunting. “Currently it’s sunny in Manitou Springs, but after that we are anticipating another cell, perhaps hitting us this afternoon around 3-6:00. It could be a very strong storm so we’re keeping everybody engaged at this point, and the community informed on being prepared to go to higher ground."

Colorado Springs emergency responders retrieved a body from Fountain Creek early Thursday, The Denver Post has reported the victim’s identity. City officials also closed Garden of the Gods Park as a precaution.

Update 4:50 p.m. - The Poudre River is rising and Larimer County officials are saying flooding is ‘imminent.’ They are recommending evacuation for anyone in the low areas along the river. A shelter has been setup at Timberline Church at 2908 Timberline Rd. Fort Collins.

Additional notifications have been sent to either evacuate or prepare to shelter in place for: people living along Glade Road and CR 27 from CR 38E to Highway 34; Buckhorn Rd from Bear's Lair to Masonville; and residents along County Road 25e and the side roads.

The National Weather Service in Boulder on Twitter has issued “Flood Warnings for Cache La Poudre from canyon mouth near Fort Collins, through Fort Collins, to Greeley through at least Friday Noon.”

Update 4:36 p.m - an update via Erin O'Toole:

Officials in Boulder County continue to stress the danger from the heavy rains that have triggered mudslides and sent walls of water rushing through canyons.

“We’re asking people to stay away from water,” says Heidi Prentup with the Boulder County Sheriff’s department. “All the water is considered hazardous at this point -- whether it’s from movement, or from sewage that has leaked into the water.”

Residents in the town of Lyons are being told to drink only bottled or boiled water because of a possible breach of the town’s water system.

Access to the small mountain community has been completely cut off because of the flooding. CDOT says US 36 and Highway 7 remain closed between Lyons and Estes Park and US 34 remains closed between Loveland and Estes Park. All roads will remain closed overnight at minimum. The Associated Press is reporting that about 200 Lyons residents have taken shelter in a school.

Update 4:05 p.m. - an update via Luke Runyon:

The town of Estes Park has essentially been cut off from all travel due to the heavy rains and flooding. Portions of Highway 34 through Big Thompson Canyon are crumbling into the river.

Larimer County sheriff Justin Smith says the road will be shut down for the foreseeable future.

“This is not something where we had a boulder fall on, they got to haul it out, break it up and throw some asphalt on it,’ said Smith. “We’re talking about the road base on a river being gone, that will be a significant period of time.”

Most major roads into Estes Park have also been shut down. About 600 phone calls were made to residents within Big Thompson canyon, telling them to evacuate, though washed out roads have made travel impossible in some areas. Down river, mandatory evacuations are in place in Loveland’s floodplain along the Big Thompson River.

Update 3:36 p.m. - an update via Grace Hood:

Larimer county officials have confirmed that a small size dam near Pinewood Springs off Highway 36 has given way. They believe three other small dams may have met the same fate, but are unable to confirm it due to impassable roads.

“It’s concerning because we’re not sure exactly what impact it will have or did have,” said John Schulz, with the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office. “It’s scary from that aspect. But given the amount of water we believe to be there that concern is somewhat mitigated.”

Schulz says Larimer County estimates that the first dam break had about 25 acre feet of water-- not a significant amount. The county may attempt to use a helicopter to over fly the area when conditions improve.

In Weld County, officials are expecting the Platte River north of Kersey to breach its banks tonight and flood the low areas east of Weld County Road 45 along the river. The county advises residents to make necessary preparations for livestock and be prepared to evacuate if flood waters approach your location.

Update 3:19 p.m. - Julie Albertson sent us this video from Hygiene, Colo. There's just so much water moving over the land. See those street signs? That's at Hygiene Rd and 63rd.

Update 2:52 p.m. - An update via Nathan Heffel:

As the threat of flash flooding continues across Northern Colorado, civil officials are getting help from Colorado’s National Guard. 1st Lt. Skye Robinson of the National Guard says around 60 troops are currently helping deliver supplies to towns cut off by flood waters including Lyons and Estes Park.

“This is really what the national guard is there for, you know it’s always unfortunate circumstances like the floods when we’re called up to assist our neighbors but that’s what we’re here for, that’s why we joined the guard,” said Robinson.

Troops are being supplied by armories in Boulder, Denver and Windsor. The troops are providing support as well as high clearance vehicles able to maneuver in the deep water.

Update 2:21 p.m. - The Denver Post is reporting that a dam has broken in the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, that is in addition to the previously reported dam that gave way in Larimer County at Meadow Lake.

The Post writes, "As what the National Weather Service called a "Biblical rain" continued to pour on Colorado, flooding towns up and down the Front Range, state dam safety inspectors fanned out to check conditions on larger dams in which failures could be deadly."

Read more at the Denver Post.

Update 1:50 p.m. - An update from Luke Runyon:

Justin Smith, Larimer County Sheriff says portions of Big Thompson canyon and adjoining canyons have become impassable. An unknown number of residents in the canyon have become stranded due to washed out roadways and fallen boulders. Evacuation calls were made to more than 600 phone numbers within the canyon. Some residents are having to decide whether to stay put and hope their home is high enough to avoid serious flooding or venture out an find a path to safety. One emergency worker is still trapped in the Big Elk Meadows area within Big Thompson Canyon. It’s unknown how many of these stranded enclaves exist in the canyon.

Authorities in Loveland are also commencing mandatory evacuations within the river’s 100-year flood plain [.pdf]. As I was driving away from the canyon on Highway 34 toward Loveland saw a few firefighters going house to house and knocking on doors, telling people to leave. Smith said it was just a precaution.

Estes Park has essentially become an island. 34 will be shut down for the foreseeable future, along with almost every other major road into or out of Estes Park. There are unconfirmed reports that Trail Ride Road has also been closed.

Update 1:20 p.m. - Meagan Fitzgerald posted this dramatic photo to twitter:

Update 1:00 p.m. - Due to flood damage on Coal Creek Canyon and Pine Brook in Boulder County, Xcel has turned off natural gas service to approx. 3,800 customers. Details posted at the Xcel site. The request to turn off the gas was made by the Fire Department. There are also reports of damaged equipment and electrical failures.

Update 12:40 p.m. - An update from the noon news conference in Boulder, via Nathan Heffel:

Boulder County officials continue to stress the severity of flooding in the county and are urging residents to stay off area roads unless absolutely necessary and remain far from flooded waterways.

Flood sirens blared in Jamestown as the city was evacuated. Residents have been sent to the Jamestown Elementary School where they remain cut off due to flooded and washed out roads.

Flood sirens were also sounded around Boulder Creek as a possible surge of water was expected there. The sirens were not a call to evacuate, but to warm people to continue to stay away from the water.

At the University of Colorado, 25% of the buildings on campus have received some sort of damage, about 40 buildings. The extent of the damage is not yet known. There has been no decision when to re-open the campus, it remains closed Thursday and Friday.

Audio: Nathan Heffel reports on the flooding and rain across Colorado for Here & Now.

Update 12:15 p.m. - Residents Of Lyons Cautioned To Boil Tap Water via Erin O'Toole

Update 11:58 a.m. - MANDATORY evacuations have been declared for the Big Thompson Corridor. Heavy rains and releases from Olympus Dam have prompted the decision. As the press release from the city of Loveland writes, "A projection of 7,000 cubic feet per second of water is anticipated and water levels are expected to continue to rise throughout the afternoon."

In Loveland, the intersection of First and Taft is now closed. The following streets are soon expected to be affected by conditions:

  • First Street at Big Thompson River
  • Burlington-Northern Santa Fe railroad tracks and Railroad Ave.
  • Overtopping is expected at Barnes Park
  • St. Louis Avenue
  • Lincoln Avenue (Hwy 287)

The city of Loveland has also released the 100-year flood plain map [.pdf].

Update 10:53 a.m. - The city manager of Longmont has signed an emergency declaration [.pdf]. It orders evacuation of areas affected by the flooding, other authorized actions, and to note, it says "it is unlawful, during this state of emergency, to knowingly fail to obey this order."

Update 10:51 a.m. - Here's a list of closures provided by CDOT:

New Closures

  • State Highway 72 at milepost 50.5 near Allenspark - This segment is now closed due to a mudslide. All routes into and out of Estes Park are closed.
  • State Highway 66 between 53rd and Lyons- Closed due to flooding
  • Eastbound I-76 at SH 8- The right lane is closed due to flooding.
  • US 85 at 69th- The highway was completely closed due to flooding.
  • SH 119 between Boulder and Nederland Closed due to a rockslide
  • Pothole repairs underway on Parker Road between Mississippi and Jewell.
  • Eastbound US 6 at Vasquez Boulevard- Due to flooding
  • Eastbound I-70 to I-225- Closed due to flooding

Ongoing Closures

  • US 24 between Cave of the Winds and Cascade- recently closed again due to a flash flood warning.
  • SH 14 between Walden and Ted's Place remains closed - We believe a portion of the highway has washed out, but we have still been unable to fully evaluate the situation.
  • EB SH 7 between 55th and Cherryvale in Boulder- closed due to flooding
  • SH 7 between Lyons and Estes Park - Closed due to flooding. There is about 10-24 inches of water on the road
  • US 34 between Loveland and Estes Park- closed due to flooding
  • US 36 between Lyons and Estes Park- This segment is closed due to flooding.
  • SH 72 between SH 93 and Twin Spruce Road- A portion of the highway has been washed out.

Update 10:05 a.m. - via Governor Hickenlooper on Twitter:

Update 9:50 a.m. - via Weld County on Facebook:

Advisory evacuation for the area of WCR 14 1/2 and WCR 25 in the Fort Lupton area due to rising water. Reverse 911 is going out to that area; Fort Lupton Police and Weld County Deputies are working to notify homes in the area to be ready to evacuate. Fort Lupton is opening a shelter at the Fort Lupton Recreation Center, 203 S Harrison Ave.

Update 9:36 a.m. - Larimer County confirms that the eastbound lane of Highway 34 in Big Thompson Canyon has collapsed. The westbound lane is damaged and unstable. Highway 34 is closed from Dam Store to Estes Park.

Update 9:23 a.m. - CU Boulder remains closed Thursday, and will be closed Friday as well, spokesman Bronson Hilliard just announced at the news conference.

Update 9:19 a.m. - An update from Boulder:

At the morning news conference, Boulder Sheriff Joe Pelle related that the storm has been devastating, especially in the mountains.

Roads, bridges, homes and cars have been lost to flood waters. The Sheriff said that efforts to reach foothills or mountain areas have been ‘frustrated.’ Roads are impassible either from being washed out, debris walls or rock slides.

Heavy vehicles and helicopters have been requested from the Colorado National Guard, however, helicopters have been grounded due to weather.

The town of Lyons is completely isolated with no access by any roads. The waste water plant has been knocked out and no fresh water is available. Citizens are on higher ground and four deputies are on-site in Lyons monitoring the situation.

The Sheriff confirmed two deaths in Boulder County, one on the 200 block of Linden and the other a previously reported fatality in a structure collapse in Jamestown. There is an additional reported fatality in Colorado Springs from earlier Thursday. There are now three deaths related to the flooding across Colorado.

Sheriff Pelle reiterated that the event isn’t over, saying in fact “it’s far from over.” The Sheriff again said that residents should stay off roads and keep them clear for emergency services.

Update 8:24 a.m. - An update from Boulder from Dan Greenwood:

On the CU Boulder campus, at least four buildings including the Norlin Library have water damage. Two dorms have been partially evacuated.

The worst damage is along the north side of campus near Boulder Creek. Officials are still assessing damage and plan to do so throughout the day and that will determine when campus reopens.

Boulder OEM has also provided an update on an accident involving three vehicles on Dillon Rd. near Highway 287. The road was washed out and all three vehicles were in the water, one of which was overturned. North Metro Fire pulled the driver of the upside-down vehicle out alive. The other drivers escaped unharmed from their vehicles.

Update 7:07 a.m. - An update on the Meadow Lake Dam from Grace Hood:

Due to heavy rain, the Meadow Lake Dam near Pinewood Springs has broken and released water. The dam is one of four in the area, according to John Schulz, a public information officers with the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office.

“We believe it to be relatively small amounts of water, but we’re still trying to assess what the impact of that is going to be,” said Schulz.

About 400 emergency notifications were sent to residents in Pinewood Springs and Blue Mountain, warning them that river water levels will rise quickly and that they should be prepared to move to higher ground.

Another reverse notification sent to residents in the Big Elk Meadows area warned residents that other dams in that area, off County Road 47, were in danger of giving way due to flooding.

We are following developments via Storify, those updates are embedded below.

Update 5:40 a.m. - There has been flooding across the Front Range Thursday from Northern Colorado to Colorado Springs.

The heaviest flooding has been in Boulder, where all city and county offices are closed as is the CU Boulder campus. Approximately 400-500 CU students have been evacuated from residence halls. The Sheriff is asking that residents stay off the streets through tomorrow and not to go to work or school.

According to the National Weather Service, several Boulder County creeks are over their banks; including the Left Hand, Four Mile, Coal Creek and St. Vrain. Evacuations have been ordered in Longmont along the banks of the St. Vrain.

The Denver Post is reporting one death in the flooding when a structure collapsed in Jamestown. There is potentially another fatality in Colorado Springs where the Colorado Springs Fire Department has reported recovering a body at S. Nevada and I-25.

Update 4:06 a.m. - Latest flooding information:

Our original post continues:

A flash flood emergency was issued for Boulder County early Thursday morning as local law enforcement and emergency management officials reported 4-6 inches of rain or more have fallen in some areas of the county.

The Boulder County OEM has activated and is updating its website with relevant information as the flooding event continues.

The Colorado Department of Transportation is updating road closures due to flooding across the state and in Northern Colorado

KUNC will continue to follow this story as it develops.

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