Deluge drenches Aspen
July 30, 2006
As much as 3 feet of rain and mud flooded basements in several Aspen homes amid one of the fiercest storms in recent memory Sunday night.Homeowners reported hearing basement windows explode from water pressure after a mudslide on Smuggler Mountain blocked nearby drainage pipes.”I didn’t even care about my books. That was the least of it,” said Martha Meagher, while standing in water above her ankles in the basement of her Williams Ranch Drive home.”I was upstairs and I heard an explosion,” she said.The water that covered the entire room entered through a window “like a rushing river,” she said. Her son’s computer and photographs and her tax records were among the items destroyed. Mud-coated objects lined the stairs and a hallway above the basement.”I’m just kind of in a daze here,” Meagher said. She described frantically trying to reroute the water’s path outside the window with boards of wood.”It came in so fast. It was like Hunter Creek in the spring,” she said.Firefighter Kevin Smiddy sloshed through a foot of water in the driveway of another likely flooded home on Williams Ranch Drive.”You know if this neighbor is around?” he yelled.The homeowner, an Aspen business owner, was in Florida, other residents said.”It happened in 15 minutes,” said Aspen police officer Gary Kalkman, of the deluge. “Then, bingo. It came down Smuggler.”
Meagher’s neighbor, Martin Hall, said the rainfall was the heaviest he has seen in nearly 40 years in Aspen. He described a single large cloud that hung over the area.”It was like someone was pouring a bucket, but a million of them,” he said.
Down the street, 14-year-old Austin Owen said 2 feet of water was in her home’s basement after a window burst. She and her family returned home at 5 p.m., around the time the storm began.Owen saw “the deck was flooded. Then we went and checked the basement, and we could hear the water rushing in,” she said.Her mother, Barbara, said the family was afraid to turn on the basement lights, fearful of being electrocuted in the standing water. Firefighters, who arrived as she was calling 911, pumped out the water and cleared drainage pipes.A steady stream of water deposited mud and rocks on Smuggler Mountain Road, and vehicles slowly drove through deep puddles on Gibson Avenue.Across town, the bar floor at the Sky Hotel was drenched near the doors to the pool. Water streaming off the roof overwhelmed a poolside drain and flooded about 4 feet of the carpet. The hotel’s basement garage also flooded.Workers with large brooms swept the water toward the pool. Inside, Mark Roberts of Frisco, Texas, said the storm’s onset was quick.
“That’s called a flash flood,” he said.His wife, Gabrielle, said water was dripping onto the bed in their second-floor room. The room was also leaking in another place, they said.But manager Erin Hokkanen said damage to rooms was minimal.”It rains here and everything, but not nearly this bad,” she said.Back near Smuggler Mountain, longtime Aspenite Jay Parker used a city front-end loader to build an earthen dam as water streamed over a rock wall between two homes on Silver Lode Drive.The National Weather Service issued an urban and small stream flood advisory for Aspen during the storm. The warning was sounded after a weather spotter reported the Smuggler scene, said Dan Zumpfe, a meteorologist in the agency’s Grand Junction office.”On our radar we saw thunderstorms over there, and we saw they weren’t moving anywhere,” he said.
The storm contained “a lot of lightning and a lot of rain in a short amount of time.”On Williams Ranch Drive, Barbara Owen said it was the strongest storm she had seen in the 25 years she’s lived here.”You could just see water and mud rushing across the road,” she said. “I never dreamed it was in my basement.”She had just called a restoration company and watched as firefighters and her husband continued to draw the water out.”We don’t have flash-flood insurance,” Owen said. “We’ll just have to see.”Chad Abraham’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org