Bringing it Home: Impact of floods ripples to Aspen
September 24, 2013
Editor's note: "Bringing it Home" runs Saturdays in The Aspen Times and focuses on state, national or international issues that have ties to or impacts on the Roaring Fork Valley.
While flooding brought on by heavy rainfall wreaked havoc on Front Range communities last week, life in the Roaring Fork Valley was much the same, albeit a little wetter than usual.
Meanwhile, some local residents were worrying and checking in with friends and families directly impacted, while others traveled to lend a hand.
Barbara Platts, now of Aspen, grew up in the Pine Brook Hills neighborhood of north Boulder. Floodwaters began creeping in the lower level of the family's home the night of Sept. 11. Platts' stepfather, brother and sister-in-law had to get up in the middle of the night and fill garbage bags with sand and lay them out. Uriah Bueller, Platts' stepfather and a part-time Aspen resident, grabbed a 10-foot-by 10-foot picnic tent still in its bag and laid it at the top of their driveway to divert water.
“Just crazy things you wouldn’t think would happen outside of a natural disaster Hollywood movie.”
Water began to build up around the house, so they started digging trenches around it. Eventually, they went to bed thinking there was nothing more that could be done. They had no idea that neighbors had boulders and mud slide into their homes.
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"Just crazy things you wouldn't think would happen outside of a natural-disaster Hollywood movie," Bueller said.
They would also learn later that two teenagers died in the neighborhood that night.
Early that morning, emergency crews came knocking on the door asking for directions. Bueller began walking around Linden Drive.
"I see rocks the size of my car on the road and guardrails gone and parts of the road just washed away and gaping holes and just crazy stuff that you would never expect to ever see outside some postapocalyptic world," Bueller said.
Power returned in Bueller's house the night of Sept. 12. That same night, crews opened the road for residents to evacuate. Bueller's stepson and stepdaughter-in-law decided to leave, but Bueller, having determined that he was safe, decided to stay and see how he could help out. He spent a lot of time during the event checking on neighbors, cooking at the volunteer fire station and offering his home to others. Bueller said other neighbors also donated food and cooked for emergency responders at the fire station.
"There were a lot of people who helped out," Bueller said.
Platts said it was scary hearing scattered bits and pieces of news.
"I was getting calls from my friends, stuff like, 'I hear Linden is a war zone, is everybody OK?'" Platts said. "It was pretty freaky in that moment if you can't get a hold (of friends and relatives), like I couldn't get a hold of my stepdad. It was crazy."
Aspen resident Natalie Antoine, who grew up in south Boulder, said her family's home was not damaged by the flooding, but many of her friends' were. Neighbors still are staying in their house.
Some Roaring Fork Valley residents also went out to the Front Range to lend a hand. A team of three firefighters from Aspen, three from the Snowmass district and one from Basalt, as well as a team from Carbondale, helped with emergency response last week.
Capt. Jeff Edelson, fire training officer at the Snowmass-Wildcat Fire Protection District, said his team helped with swiftwater rescue procedures, helping get people over creeks and rivers.
"We were setting up a highline, Tyrolean rope and essentially putting people on pulley systems," Edelson said. "We could hang them from the rope from a harness or put them in a litter and then traverse them across the river on a rope that we strung tight from one side to the other."
The firefighters also knocked on doors to check on people and, in some cases, help them evacuate. Most people were "extremely grateful," he said.
"It was a great learning experience and the first time I'd been involved in devastation like that," Edelson said. "We were happy, of all things, just to lend a helping hand and be involved with the rescue efforts."
The heavy rain in Boulder stopped the night of Sept. 13, but that was not the end of the risk. As the water dried up, there still was a chance of slides and other dangers. The roads around Pine Brook Hills reopened Monday.
It will be weird going home next time, Platts said. Her room is on the lower level of their home, which still had some water in it as of Friday, so she most likely will be sleeping upstairs.
As costly as it will be to repair the damage — most people in the area don't have flood insurance — Bueller said it's not nearly as bad as that of some of their neighbors' homes.
"We were very lucky for the area," Platts said. "That's hard to see, neighbors that you grew up with, their houses are destroyed."