When the rains starting coming down in Colorado in mid-September nobody predicted the catastrophic damage and flooding that would leave more than 18,000 homes damaged, 1,000+ people stranded (many who needed to be air-vac’d out), with a land mass the size of Connecticut affected. It is a miracle that so few people were killed.
Phrases like “catastrophic destruction” “biblical proportion” and “1,000 year flooding” routinely described the raging flood waters that destroyed or washed away cars, homes, businesses, roads, bridges, utilities. Nobody predicted either, the grit and determination of those of us affected by the flood, the camaraderie within the communities, and the thousands of first responders pulled in from all over the country who have rebuilt roads, reconnected utilities and essentially, rescued us to help put our lives back together. It is to these folks we owe a huge debt of gratitude and they need to know that we’re thankful in Estes Park.
Compared to many other people, my husband and I were extremely fortunate. Although the flood waters destroyed the roads we used to get off the mountain, he – and two other people he works with – took the remaining road that would get them to the front range where they now lived Monday through Friday. The road was a narrow rutted, two-track, 4WD necessary dirt road, with sides that dropped off into the abyss. A work drive that usually took 40-45 minutes, now took them 3.5-4 hours and we were hearing it would take months to years for the major roads to be reconstructed. I missed him….but…my house STAYED clean and I really didn’t need to cook. A dinner of 3 fudgesicles worked just fine for me.
While there were cars and parts of houses floating down the rivers, our house was intact. We had water in our mechanical room coming up from the saturated ground and ancient artesian springs that were now full, but we were able to “McGyver” two sump pumps and several hoses to move it from the mechanical room, across the downstairs and out a bathroom window. Our house never leaked a drop.
One of the most unique experiences was the loss of utilities. Again, we were very fortunate. We lost cell signals and phones for a bit, our electricity for an hour or so, but we never lost our heat, gas or internet connection. The sewer system was another story.
Because the utilities ran under the roads, and many roads were almost completely washed away, the sewer lines were destroyed and needed rebuilding which turned the vast majority of Estes Park into a “No Flush Zone.” Like crocus in the spring, porto potties began popping up all over town and those of us who didn’t leave town, discovered what it was like to camp in your own house. We could walk out the front door, go across the street and use the porto potty (nope…never did), or purchase a brand spanking new camping potty and put it next to our now unusable toilet. We opted for that.
I needed to tell you a bit of the flood background so you will understand the magnitude of the work that needed to be done. The city managers held daily meetings that were webcast so we could all hear updates; local, state and national government agencies pooled resources – and played very nicely together I might add – to work on the projects at hand; the local utility companies recruited the help of other utility companies from many states around to work on restructuring facilities; engineers, CDOT and the National Guard moved mountains – literally – to start road reconstruction.
All in all, these were gargantuan projects that took many, many people to orchestrate and oversee. And let’s not forget – MANY of the people working on the first responders and reconstruction teams were dealing with their own loss and destruction caused by the flood. These people illustrate the selfless, determined attitude that could see the light at the end of the tunnel and KNOW that it wasn’t a train. Many people worked 14+ hours a day, 6-7 days a week. Many teams ran 24/7 rotating people in and out of the work zones.
A flood that decimated most of Larimer county on September 12, 2013 was losing her grip on us, due entirely to these people who worked tirelessly to keep us informed, help reconstruct our lives and rescue us from disaster. In a miraculous turn of events due to all these selfless and hard-driving folks, Estes Park re-opened for visitors. On Friday, September 1st, a temporary sewer line was completed so we’re no longer camping in our home. And some of the best news, Highway 36 – one of the two profoundly destroyed main roads heading up and down the mountain – was reopened on Monday, September 4th with a preliminary foundation that allowed traffic to and from Estes Park.
It’s amazing how many things we really take for granted: roads, flush toilets, our safety. I want the people who brought us from rack and ruin, who reconnected us, who helped – and are still helping – return our lives to us, to know that we will be forever grateful for the selfless and tireless efforts you put forth to rescue us. On behalf of the entire town, you need to know that in Estes Park we are profoundly thankful and eternally grateful to all of you.