As Colorado Floods Continue, Rescuers Help Stranded Evacuate

Sep 13, 2013
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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

And we begin this hour in Colorado, where days of heavy rain have caused record flooding. Many areas are underwater and thousands of people have been displaced from their homes. More than a dozen are missing. At least four people have died. Rescuers are making some headway today, helped by a break in the weather. The rain subsided and the sun even peeked through the clouds. Helicopters are flying in supplies and plucking up stranded people. And as Sam Sanders reports, the full extend of the damage is still unknown.

SAM SANDERS, BYLINE: Roads from Denver to Wyoming are closed. In the hardest-hit areas, rescuers navigated rafts through floodwaters to pluck residents trapped in homes. In Lyons, Colorado, 15 miles outside of Boulder, the National Guard convoy has been deployed to evacuate up to 2,500 residents who have been trapped there since Wednesday. Just north of Boulder, vegetable gardener Wyatt Barnes and his wife are riding out the rain.

WYATT BARNES: I can't even describe how high and muddy the water is. It's a creek that often flows at three feet wide most of the summer is about 100, 150 feet wide.

SANDERS: Barnes says others near him have been trapped by rising waters from nearby Lefthand Creek.

BARNES: It's rechanneled itself. People who used to have the creek to the south of them are now on an island with the creek to the north and the south of them and just phenomenal amounts of water, like Niagara Falls-style amount of water.

SANDERS: Barnes says he'll stay put for now. He says he's lucky because he still has power.

BARNES: We're pretty fortunate that we happen to have a generator because we have a farm. We have a 500-gallon fuel tank that will run the generators so we can run like one appliance at time. We have gas, so we can cook. And if we need to leave, we will. But right now, we're OK.

SANDERS: Barnes is worried about his crops though. He won't know if they've survived for a few days. Luke Runyon with member station KUNC is monitoring the situation from Fort Collins, Colorado. Here's how he describes the Poudre River, which runs through the city.

LUKE RUNYON, BYLINE: Incredibly wide, I mean, I've never seen the Poudre River that wide before. Usually, you can bike along it; there's a nice bike trail that goes along it. Everything is submerged.

SANDERS: Runyon says just outside of Fort Collins, the situation is even worse.

RUNYON: You've got people who are stranded, literally. The road on either side of their home has been taken out. They're trapped in their homes waiting for air support to come in. Emergency workers have no access to the homes up in the foothills. So I think it's a different mood between Fort Collins and the foothills just outside of town.

SANDERS: Flooding in the region has been exacerbated by what's called burn scars. These are areas swept clean by Colorado wildfires over the last few years. The fires have decimated vegetation that would usually help trap rainwater.

Colorado will receive federal help. On Thursday night, President Obama declared an emergency and approved disaster assistance in Boulder, El Paso and Larimer counties. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper has signed a disaster declaration as well. He's described these rains as a 50- or 100-year flood. Hickenlooper is touring devastated areas throughout the day.

At a press conference Friday, Boulder County Police Chief Mark Beckner urged caution even as rains begin to subside.

MARK BECKNER: You may be in an area where it looks like it's OK in your neighborhood. You look outside, the streets not flooded. It's not raining that hard, and you wonder what's the problem. Well, believe me, there's a problem out there.

SANDERS: The rain slowed today, but flood warnings remain in affect through Friday night. More storms are expected throughout the weekend. Sam Sanders, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.