Water runs freely down a road as heavy rains cause severe
flooding in Boulder, Colorado. REUTERS/Mark Leffingwell
Flash flooding unleashed by torrential downpours in
Colorado has killed at least three people and forced thousands
to flee to higher ground as rising water toppled buildings and
stranded motorists in their cars, officials say.
The unusually heavy late-summer rains drenched Colorado's
biggest urban centres, stretching 210km along the eastern
slopes of the Rockies from Fort Collins near the Wyoming
border south through Boulder, Denver and Colorado Springs.
An estimated 2000-3000 people were ordered evacuated from
their homes in Commerce City, a blue-collar suburb just north
of Denver, when a retaining pond there overflowed and flooded
surrounding streets, city police said.
He said evacuations might be expanded later because of a
separate dam breach at a retaining pond in the nearby Rocky
Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge, police spokesman
Christian Rasmussen said.
Among the hardest-hit areas was Boulder County, where the
National Weather Service issued a flash-flood warning through
10pm local time. Flood watches were also posted for several
counties in central and north-central parts of Colorado.
"There is water everywhere," said Andrew Barth, the emergency
management spokesman in Boulder County. "We've had several
structural collapses. There's mud and muck and debris
everywhere. Cars are stranded all over the place."
Boulder and other towns nestled along the so-called Front
Range of the Rockies were especially vulnerable as
floodwaters cascading down rain-soaked mountainsides spilled
through canyons that funneled the runoff into populated areas
"The street was like a river, and I knew it was time to go,"
said Kitty Kintzing, 65, an artist who fled her ground-floor
apartment at the mouth of Boulder Canyon on Thursday morning
and took shelter at an American Red Cross facility in town.
"I've never seen anything like this," said Kintzing, who has
lived in Boulder, a city of roughly 97,000 people northwest
of Denver, since 1969.
Heavy summer rains known as monsoons are not unusual for
Colorado, but the intensity and duration of this week's
precipitation was extraordinary, especially this late in the
season, said Kari Bowen, a Weather Service meteorologist in
By Thursday morning, at least 6 inches (15 cm) of rain had
fallen on the city of Boulder and up to 8 inches (20 cm) was
measured in the foothills west of town, Bowen said.
The rains transformed Boulder Creek, which runs through the
heart of the city and the University of Colorado's Boulder
campus, into a raging torrent that overran its banks and
flooded adjacent parking lots and streets.
Water gushed over sidewalks, roads and bike paths throughout
the downtown area as sirens wailed and public-address
loudspeakers urged residents to stay clear of high water:
"Warning: Flash flood. Please proceed to higher ground. Do
not cross standing or running water. Do not cross Boulder
The university campus was closed for the day, as were
Boulder-area public schools and all municipal office
More than 400 students were evacuated from ground-floor
campus housing overnight, campus police spokesman Ryan Huff
said. Roughly 40 buildings on campus were believed to have
sustained some flood-related damage, Huff said.
EXTREMELY DANGEROUS CONDITIONS
Red Cross spokesman Chip Frye said two high-rise apartments
where 1,000 students live east of the main campus were
evacuated later on Thursday, as were two large nursing homes
"It's really something here. I tell you, I've never seen rain
like this. It's endless," said Boulder resident Lauren
Sundstrom, 48, who began moving belongings out of her
basement on Thursday as water began creeping in.
Steady rain that began on Monday grew more intense late
Tuesday and into Wednesday. Roads across the region were
flooded out and standing water throughout Denver snarled
morning rush-hour in the state capital.
Barth, the Boulder County emergency management spokesman,
said conditions were "extremely dangerous" and that up to 4
inches (10 cm) of additional rain was expected to fall in the
area on Thursday before tapering off.
All 200 residents of Jamestown, just north of Boulder, were
forced to flee overnight, while the town of Lyons, further to
the north, was cut off as floodwaters washed out U.S. Route
36 linking Lyons to Boulder, county Sheriff Joe Pelle said.
He said Lyons had reported that its residents had no fresh
running water and its sewage treatment plant had been knocked
"We're trying desperately to get to them," Pelle said.
At least two people died in flooding in Boulder County, one
whose body was found in a collapsed building by emergency
crews searching door to door in and around Jamestown and
another who drowned elsewhere in the county, Commander Heidi
Prentup of the Boulder County Sheriff's Office said.
The body of a third victim, a man, was found by police on
flood-watch patrols in Colorado Springs, about 100 miles (160
km) to the south, officials said.
Pelle said it was possible that more flood-related fatalities
could emerge as emergency crews reached areas cut off by high
Heavy rains also breached an earthen dam on Meadow Lake in a
remote corner of Larimer County north of Boulder, releasing
about 100 acre feet of water - roughly enough to cover an
area the size of a football field in 100 feet (30.5 meters)
of water, sheriff's spokeswoman Jennifer Hillman said.
Nearby homeowners were warned by telephone of possible
flooding, but the dam release dissipated without causing
major damage and no injuries were reported, she said.
In Broomfield, a small town just northwest of Denver, three
people were rescued from an upside-down car swept into a
washed-out culvert with two other vehicles, the Boulder
Emergency Management Office said.