I lived in Colorado as a kid (and then again as a young adult), but it’s living through Irene that heightened my concern and my connection to the folks out West this month. I know that every Vermonter (and all our friends hit by Sandy) probably feel the same. It is that spirit that I share some first-hand accounts from a friend who recently relocated with his family to Boulder:
Boulder Update – Tuesday, Sept 17
“Well, things are definitely looking up today. This was the first morning in over a week that dawned with a cloudless sky and bright sunshine glowing off of the foothills. Boulder County and surrounding areas – mostly to the north – are in full recovery mode at this point. About 300 homes in Boulder County were destroyed and many others will need to be torn down or have substantial repair work done to return them to habitability.
Yesterday afternoon I took a bike ride around North Boulder to get to some of the parts of town that were closed to traffic and discovered first-hand what I had learned via the news reports and the various locals we’ve spoken to. I saw homes that still had water flowing into and out of them – something I’d never before witnessed. I also saw leafy secluded streets covered in what appeared to be a foot (or so) of mud with front end loaders trying to clear it away. I saw dozens of people in the hardest hit areas covered in mud and moving in a way that brought to mind zombies. They must be completely exhausted. Some were shoveling mud out of their driveways in what, to me, seemed like incredibly futile attempts to do something positive. These were people who were in obvious need of professional help to sort out their homes, but who were still at it alone. I saw that what seemed like every other house with a pile of rug and related debris in front. Many homes and apartments had more than rugs – furniture, water heaters, parts of HVAC systems, drywall and all manner of office equipment piled in front.
At one point I stopped my bike to offer a random act of kindness to an older woman who was struggling to move a large rock (or was it a small boulder?) out of her driveway. I ended up moving a few others for her as well. Her house was a beautiful arts and crafts style job just off of 19th street in north Boulder, surrounded by beautiful old trees. She said she and her husband were in Glacier National Park and without outside contact until last Friday when they departed the park and returned to Boulder late that evening. What she found, she said, was 2 feet of water in her completely finished basement, which held their office, family room and years of memories in the form of old family photos and keepsakes. She said she’s been in Boulder for over 40 years and has never seen anything even close to what we experienced. The news confirms her story. In the 6 days between Monday, September 9th and Sunday, September 15th Boulder received over 15 inches of rain – ½ the annual average. It was simply too much water for a place that is used to so little.
Personally, we are moving toward recovery. Our basement is still being aired out and drying well. it appears the water did not migrate up the drywall and so therefore we won’t have the unpleasant task of ripping out drywall and replacing it. (Or, should I say, the owner of the house won’t have that problem and we won’t have to live through it.) Our plan is to have the concrete floor painted and get on with our lives. There should be a law banning wall to wall carpet in basements. There is so much waste arising from this storm – much of it carpet and carpet padding – that the Boulder landfill can’t keep up with the flow and so they have set up temporary dumping sites. The kids returned to school today for the first time since last Wednesday, which was much needed for all of us. The soccer team (Boulder High School) starts up again tomorrow and so perhaps by the end of the week we’ll return to some semblance of a normal pattern, which in truth we haven’t really established here yet…
Sunday night update (Sept. 15)
…If you’ve seen the news at all over the past 12 hours, you might already know we are getting hit with more rain today.
When I sent my e-mail out yesterday morning, the sun was shining and things were looking up. Unfortunately, the rains returned with a vengeance today, forcing renewed street closures and pushing back school openings until at least Wednesday while the City works to clean up the mess, or for the moment, avert any more damage.
Yesterday, with the sun in and out all day, we took the chance to recover a bit. We spent much of the day cleaning – a form of recovery when in this sort of situation. This included attempting to dry the basement, moving the big pile of carpet and padding from the backyard to the street, removal of all the baseboard in the basement to facilitate drying behind it and running around town searching for fans – which all of a sudden became an extremely hot commodity in these parts. We also had the visit to our storage facility about 20 minutes from our house, to assess conditions there.
As it turned out, the storage facility here in north Boulder was completely destroyed by a river that appeared out of nowhere on Thursday and is now literally flowing through the storage site. Many of the storage unit doors were blown open by the surging water and belongings were strewn all over the parking lot and beyond. At our storage site, it was as if nothing happened. I had called out there to ask them about damage and was told that there was little to none, other than the occasional pin prick roof leak. Still, after seeing the north Boulder facility, I feared the worst. And yet, our unit was as dry as a bone. With that visit behind us, we went hunting for fans in Superior and Louisville. This included visits to two Home Depots, One Lowes, Staples, and Costco. Yield? One small desk fan from Staples for $25.00.
In addition to this driving around town, the kids and I got out for a walk with the dogs. Chinook helicopters were taking advantage of the weather to fly people out of the canyons west and north of us and supplies to those who stayed up there. We watched them coming and going while we were out with the dogs or just cleaning up in the yard. Most of the roads to the canyons in west Boulder or in the smaller towns up in the hills like Jamestown and Nederland have been cut off due to destroyed or blocked roads. Many people up in those areas have not been heard from in days. Unfortunately, with today’s low cloud cover and heavy rain, the National Guard had to suspend all helicopter flights in the area.
Incredibly, Boulder, Colorado, one of the sunniest places in the US, was again today overcast at dawn and dark and sodden by about noon, when the heavy rain returned. By 1 pm we had water coming back into our basement –now simply a bare concrete floor. And so we put the wet vac together again and began the bailing process anew. At this moment, 11 pm Mountain time, the rain has again stopped, and so the water coming in is down to a trickle. We all have cabin fever after having spent the past few days mostly stuck at home (other than our ventures of yesterday) and the dark skies and heavy rain are just plain old depressing after what is now a full week – except yesterday – of rain. Tomorrow is promising warmer and sunnier weather, and after that it is a return to big sun for the foreseeable future. Wish us luck and I hope wherever you are, things are well. They’ve certainly been interesting here. But I am maintaining that we were in fact very lucky relative to many of our fellow Boulder County residents. Many will lose their entire homes or many personal belongings. We lost nothing except a few days of pumping, vacuuming and cleaning.
50 year flood
Greetings from Boulder, Colorado.
Technically, it has been a “100-year flood” event. But for me, it was my 50 year (old) flood, since the worst of it fell on my 50th birthday. To all of you who have written, texted or called about the events in Boulder over the past few days, I thought I’d give a personal account. Beware, this is all still fresh for me, so if I give you “TMI”, I’m sorry, but it is partially therapeutic…. Deal with it. Or simply go to this website to see what’s been going on here and skip the e-mail: http://www.dailycamera.com.
Our family has weathered this event very well. By luck more than anything, we ended up in north Boulder, on the right side of Broadway. The house we are renting did take on water on Thursday morning and kept taking on water into the wee hours of Sept 13th, when the rain finally subsided. During that time, the kids and I were attached to the wet vac that the owner had left. …At about 8 am – we had just discovered a bit of water along one wall in the basement and the rain had slowed some, leaving us feeling mistakenly confident that we would not have a full scale flood in the house. We didn’t know how bad things were, or how bad they were about to get. From about 10 am Thurs to 3 am Fri, Boulder County broke almost every possible record for rainfall. Check out this article in the Daily Camera for an overview of what USA Today referred to as “Biblical rainfall.” http://www.dailycamera.com/news/boulder/ci_24081189 Between Monday and Friday morning, between 10 and 14 inches of rain fell in Boulder County, which, on average, receives less than 30 inches of rain per year.
By Wednesday morning, the ground was so saturated that when the really heavy rain hit mid-day Wednesday, there was simply nowhere for the water to go. So new rivers were created and many houses were badly flooded. Million dollar homes had (and still have) water literally flowing through them. In the Newlands neighborhood, a fancy and desirable part of town just south of us, many homes are built into the side of the foothills, with basements and garages mostly in the side of the hill. A friend of ours biked down 4th street yesterday, among the nicer roads in that already nice part of town, to find many of these homes with many feet of standing water in their garages. Boulder creek, which runs down Boulder canyon at the south end of town normally flows between 100 and 300 cfs (cubic feet per second). By early Thursday it was at 5,000 cfs and by early Friday it was over 10,000 cfs. The 100-year event flow in Boulder Creek is estimated to be 12,000 cfs (www.bouldercolorado.gov/water/boulder-creek-flow-rates)
Unfortunately, many businesses and homes are located in what became the path of the swollen Boulder creek and some 4,000 people were evacuated in the middle of the night Thursday/Friday. Because so many roads were closed, they were ordered to leave their cars in place and walk out of the evacuation zone to some other place. Imagine what that must have felt like.
This was all happening while I was attempting to stem the tide our basement. Early on Thursday I was holding to the fantasy that we would not need to remove carpet or even furniture. We simply vacuumed water up, pumped it out of the wet vac (with a fancy pump attachment connected to a regular garden hose) and thought we could contain the problem. By mid-afternoon, the illusion was over and we started pulling carpet back, cutting it up and removing it and the padding from the basement. We also began the process of moving furniture to the first floor. By dinner time – about 8 pm – the rain had been falling so hard and relentlessly that water was now coming in through three different walls and the idea of saving any rug down there was long gone. We could no longer stay ahead of the water, we could only try to keep bailing out the boat in the hope that eventually the rain would stop and we’d get ahead of it again. Just as I sat down to eat my dinner – prepared by my daughter in the midst of it all – my son ran upstairs and said: “Dad, more bad news. You need to come look at this.” Uh oh….
We shuffled downstairs to find that the area outside the sliding door out of the basement, which is essentially a hole at the bottom of 10 steps or so to get up to the back yard, was now taking on water faster than it could drain. Who designed this house and how could they have imagined the water NOT coming into this hole?? In any case, by now the water was threatening to rise up against the sliding door and just come pouring into the basement. I opened the door to find the drain clogged, but not in a way that I could fix. It wasn’t debris on top, it must have been something deeper (yes, I plunged my hand into the brown soup). Having seen the futility of trying to fix that problem, I went to the garage, grabbed a shovel and dug a series of trenches around the top of the stairs to divert water away from the steps. This took about 30 minutes but it actually worked. I went inside, changed into dry clothes and went to check on the basement again before taking a second stab at dinner. When I got downstairs, the drain which had about 5 inches of water and was still rising but more slowly than it had been, gurgled ominously a few times, blurped up a couple of giant air bubbles, from where, I have no idea, and all of a sudden it started to drain again. Meantime, my son was doing his best to keep vacuuming up water as fast he could to keep it from accumulating to any degree. By now (9 pm Thursday), we’d been at the task for over 12 hours. We’d been vacuuming constantly since about 8 am, had removed over 1/3 of the basement carpet and padding (both extremely nasty when wet) and had moved most of the furniture upstairs.
The big question that had been hanging over me all day was what I would do overnight. I simply didn’t have the energy to keep this all up without sleep, but the rain kept coming, which meant the water kept coming in. I was therefore faced with the prospect of snagging some broken sleep while knowing water would be accumulating in the basement because the rain simply would not let up.
Around 9:30, I spoke to the home owner and explained the situation. He’s located in North Carolina so really couldn’t do much, or so I thought. He actually called our neighbors, a gent of about my age, his wife and two teenage boys, to see if they could offer some relief. Never had they been so glad to live in a house with no basement as they were on this day. At about 10 pm, the father)and one his sons, showed up and asked what they could do. I explained I just wanted to keep the water out while I slept otherwise it would accumulate, causing more damage to the house, not to mention making it virtually impossible to sleep – though I was desperate for it. they showed up again at 11 pm, kicked me out of the basement and so I was able to catch some broken sleep. At 4 am I awoke to my alarm to find that the rain had finally stopped. When I went to the basement, they were gone, and the water level was just about where it had been at about 11 pm – which is to say low but widespread. I picked up the vacuum and took to it again.
By 8 am, the kids were awake and we’d all eaten breakfast and the water had slowed even further. By 10 am we were standing in the basement again, facing the task of getting the rest of the carpet and padding out and vacuuming the water underneath. By 2 pm we were finally done. The back yard looked like it had been overrun by giant moles (my trenches) and there was (and is) a huge pile of sopping carpet and padding. But there was no standing water in the basement and things were starting to dry out. The sun even emerged. And that’s when we really discovered how lucky we were.
At 3 pm yesterday, the kids and I set out for a walk around the area to assess the storms impact in our little corner of north Boulder. What we found was unbelievable devastation to houses and roads and heavy water still running in places and across roads where it has apparently never been. Our home is on the downslope of the foothills, essentially about as far west as you can go before the homes give way to brown grassy hills that are too steep for houses. This is the west side of north boulder, and the west side of Broadway, the main north-south street that runs through Boulder (about 8 miles from top to bottom) The east side of Broadway in north Boulder is like a war zone – hoses (and pipes in some cases) are running out of houses draining water that had risen all the way up to the basement ceilings in many cases because drainage streams ran literally right through their houses. As of last night, many roads were still closed due to high water – not standing water, mind you, but running water. Overhead, and adding to the surreal feel of the day, there was the sound of whop! Whop! Whop! – the steady stream of large transport helicopters going up an back to the canyons where many people were stranded and up to Lyons, about 15 miles north of us, where the entire place – over 4,000 people – was evacuated.
And so with all that, I am feeling very lucky today. Lucky that our homeowner bought that incredible wet vac and pump. Thankful that we never lost power or water. I’m also thankful for the friends who helped throughout and for the kids who stuck with the jobs at hand – no matter how dirty – without ever complaining. I’m thankful that this week wasn’t last week, when our kids were all out camping with their classes, our oldest in particular, who was in the backcountry with no easy means of contact.”
(Shared by permission by the author.)
September 15, 2013 – MONTPELIER – At the request of Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, three of the Vermont Agency of Transportation’s top staff are heading to Colorado on Monday to help guide that state’s road and bridge repair in the aftermath of last week’s deadly flooding. Gov. Hickenlooper said his state is on the fast track to rebuild infrastructure lost in the floods, and asked for Vermont to share its expertise learned in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene to help Colorado recover better and more quickly.