Colorado flooding: Residents return, but some find no home

Posted at 8:28 AM, Sep 17, 2013
and last updated 2013-09-17 10:28:26-04

By Kyung Lah and Ben Brumfield

LYONS, Colorado (CNN) — The skies have improved over Colorado, allowing some evacuated residents to return to their flood-battered neighborhoods — only to find there’s no house to call home.

In the town of Lyons, flood waters pushed entire houses around like furniture.

“Today is our first day up here since we’ve been evacuated,” Kelly Hunt told CNN. “And I feel like it’s worse than I thought it would be. We lost absolutely everything we own.”

When the thick mud and water moved through the town Thursday, they lifted her house and moved it several feet.

Throughout Lyons, the streets are dotted with snapped power poles. Rescue workers and the National Guard members outnumber residents, who were forced to evacuate.

The two branches of the St. Vrain Creek bisect this town, and nearly swallowed it whole.

Abe Vasquez tried to step through the living room of his 78-year-old mother’s home. His feet slowly sank in the two feet of raw sewage that had pooled there.

“Here’s what’s left,” Vasquez said. “That’s her walker. That’s the other one.”

It took 79 years to build the place, Vasquez said. It took 24 hours for it all to disappear.

“It’s gone,” he said. “It’s hard.”

In the community of Longmont, Jeff Larsen considered himself a little more fortunate. His home is damaged. But at least it’s still standing.

“It’s ruined,” Larsen, who returned to Longmont for the first time since Thursday, told CNN affiliate KUSA. “Our basement is gone. It stinks so bad in there, you can barely stand it.”

When the waters rushed in, his wife, Nina, watched as their SUV was whooshed away.

“We watched it float down the road,” she said.

Nearly 18,000 homes around the state have been damaged. Across Colorado, eight people are dead. And there are still at least 1,000 more in remote areas yet to be evacuated.

Two flood-ravaged counties have lowered the numbers of people that had not been accounted for during the height of the bad weather.

Boulder County said 183 have not been accounted for and Larimer County says its number is 197. Most of the people on the unaccounted list are likely alive and well but have failed to check in with authorities to let them know.

“I think there is still going to be a lot of shock and disbelief,” said Matthew Applebaum, the mayor of Boulder. “The amount of destruction, the damage to people’s houses, the damage to neighorhoods, the damage to roads, the damage to our much beloved open space — it’s pretty significant and, as I said, it’s extraordinarily widespread.”

Bad weather kept rescue helicopters grounded much of the weekend. But they took to the skies again Monday.

The air efforts may be the largest such evacuation in the country since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the National Guard said.

The swell of runoff water is rushing down the South Platte River, heading out of state to neighboring Nebraska, where it is predicted to flood towns, CNN meteorologist Indra Petersons said. The river should inundate the tiny community of Roscoe.

Elsewhere flooding should be mild to moderate.

Like many, Casey Korbely wants to return home. But pictures from his neighborhood in Boulder County show cars buried in mud, and a huge hole that was once a road.

“The cops and firefighters said it would probably take two to three weeks before then can build a bridge and we can get our vehicles out. ”

But Korbely is determined to get back — by hiking. An uphill climb …fueled by a Colorado spirit that doesn’t give up.

CNN’s Kyung Lah in Lyons, Tory Dunnan in Longmont, Ana Cabrera in Boulder County, George Howell and Shawn Nottingham contributed to this report.

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