Mudslide sweeps through neighborhood
Jeff Vanderpol and his son Chase were catching the late showing of “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” Sunday night when an usher tracked them down in the theater to inform them of their own horror story.When they arrived at Jeff’s ex-wife’s home, at 721 Hearthstone Drive in Basalt’s Elk Run subdivision, they found Chase’s basement bedroom and an adjoining media room swamped in about 4 feet of soupy, reddish mud.”I was about ready to cry because it was my room,” Chase, 15, said while picking through debris Monday morning for belongings he could salvage.The Vanderpol home was one of at least six houses affected by mudslides that pushed fingers of red goop through the eastern edge of the subdivision. Debris came rushing down hillsides above the Basalt cemetery when an intense storm hit around 10:30 p.m. Sunday.Flooding also ripped out nearby ranch fences, clogged irrigation ditches with debris and closed three holes at the Roaring Fork Club golf course.Unofficial reports indicate that about a half-inch of rain fell in 45 minutes.”I’ve never heard the rain come down with such force,” said Tammy Vanderpol, who was trying to sleep when the storm hit.The thunder, lightning and pounding rain drowned out other sounds, so she was unaware that water and mud were flowing into the window wells surrounding her basement. A law officer banged on her door to alert her.Vanderpol said she has lived in the house for nine years and never experienced any such problem. But this was no ordinary storm. The water rolled off the hillsides into gullies then ran across Guido Meyer’s ranch and tree nursery before reaching Elk Run. On Hearthstone Drive, the Vanderpol house took the brunt of the water. The force eventually shattered three windows. The basement filled to about 4 feet before Basalt firefighters strategically placed pumps to draw the goop out.The family’s cat was in the basement when all hell broke loose. It escaped injury, but not trauma, when firefighters plucked it off a floating piece of furniture.”Pumpkin was completely covered in an inch of mud,” Tammy said. “Everybody got out. It’s a freakish thing.”Jeff Vanderpol hired a crew that started working at 2:30 a.m. to remove the rest of the mud from the basement. The family stayed at his house, just down the street.Meyer, whose family has owned the property alongside Elk Run since the 1960s, said gully washers hit that area every now and then, putting on an awesome display of force. “Every time that happens I just say, ‘Oh my God,'” he said. The last similar storm and mudslide he remembered was in 1996.Sunday’s storm filled five of his ditches with debris and tore down at least one fence.Slightly downvalley from Elk Run and the Meyer ranch, debris shooting out of different gullies covered two fairways and one green at the Roaring Fork Club with 4 inches of silt and boulders of up to 2 feet in diameter. A crew of 25 worked for 12 hours Monday to remove material. It will require another 11 hours of work today to clear all the debris, said Matt Brewer, golf course supervisor.He said Basalt was saturated with about two-fifths of an inch of rain on Friday, Saturday and Sunday before the big storm. The club’s rain gauges indicated an additional half-inch fell in a 30- to 60-minute period Sunday night, Brewer said. However, course workers reported the rain was blowing sideways during the brunt of the storm, so the gauge might not have recorded all that fell accurately.Basalt Town Manager Bill Efting said some town residents reported getting rain in basements that had never experienced that problem before.On Columbine Court, about three blocks from Hearthstone Drive in Elk Run, mud covered the driveway and part of the yard of Doreen Dunlop. That’s never happened in her 13 years there, she said. “It was just mud everywhere.”Two houses away, homeowner John Tikunoff wished it would have waited another 13 years, at least. His back and side yard caught the brunt of a mudslide in his neighborhood. The yard, which was once immaculately landscaped, was covered in mud up to 6 inches deep. A work crew was racing to shovel it out before it hardened.”The sad thing is I just bought the house,” Tikunoff said. “I haven’t been in here two weeks.”Fortunately, the water and mud spared his house. One homeowner on Columbine Court reported the goop flowed into his basement after it moved across the yards of his three neighbors.Like other homeowners who were cleaning up, Tikunoff said he was concerned about what will happen if it keeps raining like it has over the past 10 days. He fears the saturated ground will send more water and mud onto his property.Tikunoff said there is an old irrigation ditch above his property that was breached when he investigated during Sunday night’s storm. He wants the town to take steps to prevent the water from affecting his house again.Efting said the ditch above Columbine Court appeared to be abandoned. A town worker pulled tree limbs and other debris from it Monday. Town staff will research whether the ditch is on private or public land, and who is responsible for maintaining it. However, Efting said Sunday night’s deluge was an act of nature and no one is to blame.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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