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Colorado floods: Survivors' stories

Residents of flood-stricken valleys in western state are left picking up the pieces after a week of heavy rains.
Last modified: 17 Sep 2013 12:21

Relentlessly the rains poured down, and the creeks and rivers flowed full. A mass of water not seen in a generation cascaded through the mountains and steep valleys of northern Colorado.

The water did what water always does - it flowed downhill as fast as mass and gravity permitted, heedless of the petty works of mankind. Houses that stood tall and strong, cleverly engineered bridges, and broad roadways were, in the face of nature's power, but fragile things.

The water moved, and Hayden Court, a little street not far from the St Vrain river in Longmont, was just in its way.

Jennifer Peyrot moved into her new house on Hayden Court only six weeks ago. She led us down into her basement where a thick layer of mud covers the floor and a foul river smell hangs in the air. Irreplaceable tokens lay ruined in the muck.

"This is my army stuff, the medals I received in Kuwait," Peyrot said, sorting through mud-covered shoeboxes full of paper. "This is a letter from my favorite teacher, who just died recently… oh gosh… it's all gone, it's just gone," she said, breaking into sobs.

Peyrot has no flood insurance. But even with all the damage, she sees redemption. “I'm safe, Alison my sister is safe, my dog's safe, the people in this neighborhood are all safe," she said, "which is really whats REALLY important. It's not this stuff."

Picking up the pieces

Up and down Hayden court, wrecked cars, huge chunks of asphalt and toppled lamp-posts testify to the power of Thursday's flood. People are taking stock and figuring out what to do next. Emergency workers cleared debris.

It's a scene repeated all across this state, where at least seven people have died and over 600 people remain unaccounted for. Authorities hope that many of the unaccounted for have simply lost telephone contact with the outside world, and will eventually be found safe. 

Rescue efforts were hampered over the weekend as log clouds and fog kept helicopters grounded. By Monday the skies had cleared somewhat and helicopters were ferrying evacuees out of inaccessible mountain areas.

Nina Larson, hobbling around with an injured leg, was at home on Hayden Court with her son Wyatt and one of his friends when the water started swirling up fast.

She watched her car get swept away. "It was a time span of about 2-3 minutes from when the water hit the bottom of the tires on our Durango, went all the way up, we just watched it within three minutes go all the way over the Durango and take the Durango down the road.”

Larson and her son were trapped for 8 hours before rescuers came for them in a boat. But in the meantime her husband Jeff swam across flooded fields to get to his family. I asked him what was going through his mind as he battled the heavy current.

"You kind of lose all thought of yourself. You just have to get to your family, that's it - I felt helpless the whole time ‘because I couldn’t get to them,” he said.

Emergency workers say they’ll have the power back on in a day or two, but the repair work and the cleanup will take a lot longer than that. And none of the families who live here on Hayden Court will ever forget the day the waters rose.