It is the worst since the Big Thompson Flood of 1976. Raging late-summer storms overwhelmed the Rocky Mountain canyons, which gushed water into urban areas from Fort Collins through Boulder, Lyons, Estes Park, Denver and Colorado Springs to the South. Five people were killed by the deluge and over 500 are still missing.
The flooding is not over, and it is still raining. The emergency responders are still in SAR (search and rescue) mode, so detailed information about the flood and progress is not so easy to come by. Mark Neveau, a coordinating FEMA official, said that there are three Type 1 National Management teams in the entire country, and one has already reached Colorado after President Obama issued an emergency declaration.
Governor John Hickenlooper gave a calm and reassuring press conference about what was being done in the midst of the emergency. He praised local emergency responders who have been working 24-hour shifts. He said that federal aid from the White House via FEMA infused the much needed rescue efforts from the Management Team were already in action.
Although the governor was on crutches after a hip surgery operation, and clearly hadn't slept much himself, he was firm and direct in telling Colorado residents what to do and especially what not to do -- as in, don't drive your cars near flood zones, and don't get in the way if you don't have to. Seriously.
In a state that boasts dramatic peaks and canyons of the Rockies -- we must remember that they are indeed just that: Rocky. High water becomes much more dangerous when it is filled with rock and debris from the funneling effects of a canyon. "It's like liquid cement," said the governor.
Colorado folks want to help (many of us have the first impulse to rush in our cars with sand bags, blanket, or just "lend a hand.") But no matter how strong the urge, or how athletic you are, or what high quality iPhone video you have stay put -- here's a list of the governor's do's and don'ts:
1. If you're safe, stay home. Jefferson, Boulder, Larimer and Clear Creek counties have restricted traffic to allow emergency responders to get around. (I don't need to explain why clogging the streets and stopping on bridges to get footage gets in the way of emergency responders, right? -- It's been a problem for them. So let's give them a break.)
2. If you're asked to evacuate, evacuate. If you're in a flood zone, be ready to evacuate (Reuters has reported that emergency responders were allowing residents to bring their pets. So bring your pets... ). Elderly in Lyons and Commerce City are priority.
3. Do not try to walk through flood water. Rocky Mountain flood water is 'almost like liquid cement." Don't brave it yourself if you can help it. Wait for emergency responders if possible.
4. Want to help? Learn more at helpcoloradonow.org.
5. Don't have flood insurance? Federal funds, soon come. Gov. Hickenlooper is seeking expedited process to get declaration of a major disaster. There is a complex framework to get these funds and obviously the focus is on the immediate disaster. But money will be made available soon.
6. Even if you're not in an evacuation zone, you should go in your basement "and check." Don't lose photos that "contain years of memories because you were preoccupied with the storm" (not a bad idea, right? Good advice from a governor...)
During questions session, Gov. Hickenlooper reiterated, "Stay off bridges. Stay away from streambeds. Let's let Mother Nature run its course. Then we can go out and look and marvel at the strength and the power, but now, let's stay safe."
Thank you to John Hickenlooper, and thank you Local and FEMA emergency responders!
Stay tuned for more information from Robert Alvey of FEMA.
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