Amid another round of storms, Colorado rescues and reunions emerge
By Kevin Simpson and Jordan Steffen
The Denver Post
Raging floodwaters, powered by yet another round of thunderstorms, washed from the foothills onto the Eastern Plains on Saturday, but choppers churned through the unsettled weather bringing tales of rescue and reunion.
Still, hundreds of residents remained unaccounted for, primarily in rain-ravaged areas of northern Colorado, though authorities emphasized that could mean some simply remained stranded with no way to notify friends or relatives.
But evacuees filtered to centers across the region during an early break in the weather Saturday morning, and continued to arrive — many on Chinook helicopters — even as more storms bubbled up in the afternoon and evening hours.
Tracey Shields had an hour to
Colorado flood rescue efforts
Ground crew members assist a woman rescued from one the mountain towns from a National Guard helicopter at Boulder Municipal Airport in Boulder, Colorado September 14, 2013. Many small mountain towns are cut off from road access and people can only be brought out by air. (Mark Leffingwell, Daily Camera)
pack on Saturday before she was airlifted to safety, one of many people flown out of Storm Mountain near the town of Drake in the Big Thompson Canyon in Larimer County.
Although her home was safe and several of her neighbors decided to stay, she seized the moment. Shields and some neighbors lined up at a clearing near town where two helicopters landed in shifts, ferrying 50 people at a time.
“I heard it might be a while before we get out and life needs to go on,” she said.
After landing, many of those rescued became part of the steady stream of full buses and vans transporting residents from the storm-saturated canyons to Timberline Church in Fort Collins.
Dazed and exhausted evacuees walked off. Some ran into giant hugs, while others smiled with relief, and many broke down in tears. Volunteers carried animal crates and luggage into the church where a shelter has been set up.
Uncertainty for some
For some who waited at the church hoping relatives would step off one of the buses, the hours passed with wrenching uncertainty.
Robert Egloff had spent the last two days driving from shelter to shelter leaving notes for his parents — Edward, 48, and Sarah, 50 — who live
This aerial photo shows widespread flooding in Weld County on Saturday. (Andy Cross, The Denver Post)
in Drake, near the swollen Big Thompson River.
He last spoke to them on Thursday morning, before they started climbing to safety as the waters began to rise and surround their home on River Fork Road.
“I just told them I loved them,” he said.
Early Saturday morning, Egloff watched aerial footage of his parents’ home surrounded by churning, murky water. Later, he waited at the Timberline Church where bus after bus pulled up and evacuees were welcomed by friends and family.
Someone asked him where all the people had come from.
“All I know,” Egloff said, “is it’s another bus without my parents on it.”
Good news arrived around mid-afternoon when Egloff spoke to Leroy and Marge Rady, who had been airlifted
out of his parents’ neighborhood tired but in good health. They told Egloff that his parents, both veterans, had been leaders among the neighbors stranded on River Fork Road.
Jessica Darling, whose parents also live in that neighborhood, waited with Egloff as evacuees arrived. And then, shortly before 4 p.m., she saw her golden retriever bound out of a school bus.
Her parents, Dale and Shan Darling, followed.
They said that two days earlier, they had hiked to higher ground with Egloff’s parents. By nightfall on Thursday, a group of 24 neighbors huddled together in a few dark homes and waited.
Shan Darling broke down in tears when she spoke to Egloff about his parents and what they did for their neighbors. Egloff’s father took a bucket of paint to the rooftop of a nearby Colorado Department of Transportation building.
In bold blue letters he wrote: “24 Need meds and O2.”
By evening, Egloff said it looked like it might be another couple of days before his parents made it out, as rescuers sought to evacuate individuals with more immediate needs. At day’s end, he seemed physically and emotionally drained.
Finally, he paused for a moment and exhaled deeply.
“You know what?” he asked. “My dad’s a real hero.”
Mark Orphan, co-founder of Serve 6.8, a Christian service organization in northern Colorado, is coordinating with the Red Cross at the Timberline Church shelter. He said that as many as 2,000 people would be evacuated from the canyon areas Saturday, according to official estimates.
Nick Christensen, spokesman for the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office, said the helicopter evacuations could continue as long as five days.
For some, the drama unfolded from hundreds of miles away.
Farley Ziegler hadn’t heard from her sister, Darian Shaw, who lives in the Boulder County town of Salina, where high waters had threatened residents.
Another sister already had called authorities to put Shaw on a missing-persons list.
“We had been trying to make contact by cell and e-mail and hadn’t heard from her,” said Ziegler, who lives in Los Angeles. “We were quite concerned. This morning, I just decided to Google, ‘Darian Shaw, Boulder, Colorado’ and ‘flooding.’ ”
The search led her to a picture taken by Denver Post photographer Joe Amon that showed Shaw being transported across Fourmile Canyon on Friday by rescuers using a high line and sling.
“That’s the reason we knew she was alive,” said Ziegler, adding that the family immediately made a donation to the rescue teams.
Also in Boulder County, dozens of students and 14 adults stranded at the Cal-Wood Education Center, an outdoor-ed facility near Jamestown, were choppered to safety.
More than 85 fifth-graders from Fireside Elementary boarded helicopters that took them to Boulder Municipal Airport. From there, buses took them to a school in Louisville to be reunited with family.
The students had been cut off once rising waters washed out roads on Wednesday night, but seemed to weather the ordeal well.
Ten-year-old Parker Wolf told the Daily Camera that the situation wasn’t frightening and kids were even able to go hiking in the rain. His “I went to Cal-Wood with my school” shirt now reads, “I survived Cal-Wood with my school.”
The best part, he told the paper, was getting a helicopter ride out of the deal.
Even as rescue operations plucked residents from treacherous situations, some chose to stay put.
Ignacio Aldana, who lives on Fern Avenue in east Greeley, rode out the flood in an evacuation area overnight. Most of his neighbors evacuated. Some of them left by helicopter.
“It was creepy, like when you watch a horror move,” he said. “Silent. All dark. All you can hear is water rising all around your land. You can’t really sleep.”
The water rose past his crawl space and reached the level of the first floor. On Saturday, the water remained high as three pumps worked to empty the space under the house.
“You work all your life to get what you’ve got,” Aldana said. “And it all can be swept away in a minute.”
Kevin Simpson: 303-954-1739, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/ksimpsondp
Staff writer Bruce Finley contributed to this report.