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High Water: A Story of Colorado’s Devastating Floods — Brendan Heberton

Plume of subtropical moisture streaming into Colorado September 2013 via Weather5280
Plume of subtropical moisture streaming into Colorado September 2013 via Weather5280

The purveyor of Weather5280 has created a great mashup of photos, video and text telling the story of the September 2013 flooding. Click here to go to the Weather5280 blog for the story. Here’s an excerpt:

September 2013 was Colorado’s wettest month on record, an incredible 2.7″ above average statewide. Most of the precipitation that fell occurred over an eight day stretch from September 9, 2013 to September 16, 2013 across northeast Colorado and the Front Range.

In a region accustomed to 300 days of sunshine each year, the semi-arid climate of Colorado’s Front Range rarely sees consecutive days of rain in a given year. The monsoonal flow that feeds Colorado’s short-lived but powerful summer thunderstorms normally comes to an end in late August. In 2013, the monsoons continued well into the month of September.

During Colorado’s eight days of rain the canyons near Boulder turned into deadly traps, the town of Lyons became severed from the rest of the state, and unprecedented amounts of water surged toward the eastern plains.

‘…when you are in disaster situation, cost containment cannot be your first priority’ — Don Hunt

Flood damage Big Thompson Canyon September 2013 -- photo via Northern Water
Flood damage Big Thompson Canyon September 2013 — photo via Northern Water

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ryan Maye Handy):

The committee of six representatives and six state senators met in Denver with the heads of the Colorado Department of Transportation, the state Office of Emergency Management and members of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s newly created flood recovery team. Most of their discussion centered on securing enough funding to repair roads and provide better housing for those displaced by the mid-September deluge, which spanned from Colorado Springs to Fort Collins and across northeastern Colorado.

Many of the legislators were from Northern Colorado, where 17 miles of U.S. Highway 34 were destroyed, and the towns of Lyons, Jamestown and Drake face massive rebuilding efforts. Sen. John Kefalas, D-Fort Collins, Rep. Brian DelGrosso, R-Loveland, and Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, are all members of the committee.

Nearly two months after the floods, CDOT has repaired and reopened 89 percent of the damaged roads, said Executive Director Don Hunt. About 1,125 people are living in hotels or other temporary housing, many of whom will be moved into permanent housing options by Thanksgiving, said Dave Hard, director of the Office of Emergency Management.

But regardless of the recovery efforts — road repairs, millions in federal and state money, and potential new laws in the next legislative session — Hunt cautioned that there is only so much the state can do to stop Mother Nature…

Legislators also were briefed on how the state, with and without federal help, will cover the costs of recovery. About 2,600 people have already applied for disaster assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, and others are expected to appeal to the state for funds, said Henry Sobanet, director of the Office of State Budgeting and Planning.

Hunt doesn’t expect the state to be able to cover all the costs of the recovery. Even if some agencies receive federal aid, some will be required to pay back a certain percentage; CDOT eventually will have to repay between 10-12 percent to the federal government, Hunt said.

“I will be the first to admit that when you are in disaster situation, cost containment cannot be your first priority,” he said.

Meanwhile, here’s a release about the recovery efforts from Governor Hickenlooper’s office:

Gov. John Hickenlooper today announced that significant infrastructure repairs have been made to the Town of Lyons’ transportation, water systems and waste water systems damaged by the September floods. Additionally, the state and federal government continue to coordinate and provide assistance to businesses, families and communities recovering from flood damages.

Hickenlooper has made 27 visits to 18 counties that had flood damage to meet with community and business leaders. The governor encourages community and business leaders to continue to work with the state and federal government to rebuild quickly and better. Additionally, the governor submitted the FY 2014-15 budget request that includes funds for recovery efforts from wildfires and floods.

Town of Lyons Recovery Efforts
As of last Friday, Nov. 1, the Town of Lyons no longer has a boil-water advisory and the waste water treatment plant has resumed operations. Nearly 90 percent of the town now has wastewater sewer service through permanent or temporary solutions, and the remaining 10 percent expect to have service within the next two weeks.

Recovery Office Efforts
More than 1,200 Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), Office of Emergency Management (OEM), National Guard and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) workers continue to collaborate to address the needs of Coloradans impacted by the September flooding:

  • CDOT and the National Guard reopened U.S. 36 between Lyons and Estes Park on Monday, Nov. 4 — nearly one month ahead of schedule.
  • 89 percent of damaged state and federal roadways are now open, with the remaining on track for opening by Dec. 1.
  • FEMA approved a third extension to the Transitional Sheltering Assistance program that pays for eligible flood evacuees to stay in temporary housing. FEMA, Office of Emergency Management, and Division of Housing are working with impacted families and individuals to have more permanent housing solutions by Thanksgiving.
  • The U.S. Small Business Administration approved $57.3 million in low-interest disaster loans to Colorado homeowners, renters, businesses and nonprofit organizations that have experienced physical or economic injury. SBA loan applications are due by Nov. 30.
  • As of this week, FEMA Public Assistance obligated an additional $10.9 million in funding to applicants in the 20 counties eligible for Public Assistance. Deadlines for applications are Nov. 16 for counties approved in September and Nov. 20 for counties added in October.
  • The deadline for FEMA Individual Assistance applications was extended to Nov. 30 for people in the 11 counties approved for Individual Assistance. Total funding allocated to date is $46.7 million and, as of this week, 26,000 people have applied and 15,000 applications have been approved.
  • Fundraising and Volunteer Efforts Gain Momentum
    As of this week, more than $15 million has been raised by Red Cross, United Way and HelpColoradoNow to assist those impacted by the flooding. This includes more than $687,000 raised for United Way by the Colorado Rising Concert on Oct 27. Adds New FEMA Public Assistance Resource
    With more than 12,000 visitors in one week, continues to enable people to find the information and resources regarding the flood recovery. A new resource on the site is easy-to-follow documentation of the FEMA Public Assistance process with five scenarios based on type and size of projects. Subject experts have provided the promised 24-hour response to 74 inquiries received via the Contact Us page.

    Here’s a look behind the scenes of the emergency response from Patrick Malone writing for the Fort Collins Coloradoan. Here’s an excerpt:

    With all eyes trained on the open heavens camped over Larimer County and the rising waters they brought to the ground, plenty of drama went unseen during the September floods.

    Firefighters grumbled that their bosses played favorites while assigning duties. Technical glitches severed communication between the city of Fort Collins and its citizens during the most critical hours. Hospital emergency rooms morphed into de facto methadone clinics for recovering heroin addicts.

    Trapped citizens reached out online to emergency responders, and details of the flood’s aftermath were so grim that an emergency manager was reluctant to share them with higher-ups in Fort Collins city government played out in a string of emails.

    Meanwhile, messages sent and received by the city of Fort Collins’ emergency manager during the flood depicted a rallying human spirit that rose along with the rivers.