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Thursday, September 19, 2013

Boulder Residents Clean Up After Flooding

Debris is piled along Moorhead Avenue in south Boulder, Colo. (Pat Mack/Colorado Public Radio)

Debris is piled along Moorhead Avenue in south Boulder, Colo. (Pat Mack/Colorado Public Radio)

After a week of massive flooding that swamped 17 Colorado counties, the cleanup is in full swing.

Authorities say about 1,500 homes were destroyed and almost 18,000 damaged.

Residents are trying to figure out how and where to dump debris. That’s proving to be quite a challenge for Boulder, which was one of the hardest hit areas.




From NPR and WBUR Boston, it's HERE AND NOW. I'm Robin Young.

And now they clean up. In Colorado, about 1,500 homes were destroyed, almost 18,000 damaged by those massive floods that swamped 17 Colorado counties. From the HERE AND NOW Contributors Network, Pat Mack of Colorado Public Radio reports from Boulder on how some people in one of the hardest hit areas are picking up and dusting off the pieces.

PAT MACK, BYLINE: Along this street in South Boulder, mud cakes the curb. Flood-soaked mattresses, blankets and carpet are piled in front of a half dozen homes. Jimmye O'Connor has lived here for 30 years and has never seen anything like the wall of water that rushed down the mountain and into her home.

JIMMYE O'CONNOR: My emotions were - why is this happening? At one time I just wanted to sit down and cry because I couldn't keep the water out of our front door even.

MACK: When the rain ended, she and her husband had four feet of water and mud in their basement, ruining a bed, couch, washer and dryer, water heater and furnace. Even her beloved 1999 Dodge Neon was ruined when eight inches of rain ended up in the garage.

O'CONNOR: It's all gone.

MACK: The water in the basement eventually escaped down a drain, but they're still working to get rid of the mud.

O'CONNOR: It's dirty, stinky, smelly, yucky, nasty. Whatever you want to call it, it's that.

MACK: She fears her home has structural damage, but she feels fortunate her house sits on a flood plain and she has flood insurance. Many people in Boulder do not. Clean-up continues across the city. So much stuff ended up flooded, crews are working around the clock to haul away debris from 21 collection sites.

SARAH HUNTLEY: It's been a real challenge.

MACK: Sarah Huntley is a spokeswoman for the city. Boulder Creek runs right past her office in the municipal building and through the center of town. That's why Boulder has long been called Colorado's most vulnerable city to flash flooding. Officials have trained to be prepared, but not for a disaster of this scale.

HUNTLEY: So we have anticipated having problems with one creek, maybe two creeks. What was unprecedented about this situation is that it was so widespread, so massive, almost every, if not every, drainage ditch, drainage channel, creek, river, stream, lake, was impacted all at the same time.

MACK: Estimates say cleaning up and rebuilding will run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. In Boulder, the extent of the damage can be gauged by the brisk business at McGunkin Hardware, a 65,000-square-foot store that opened in 1955. Since the flooding started last week, people have been snapping up supplies.

LOUISE GARRELS: Fans, sump pumps, flex tubing, you know, pipe, mops, squeegees, you name it.

MACK: Marketing manager Louise Garrels says the store has sold 1,500 sump pumps so far. She says McGunkin usually only sees this much business during its twice-yearly tent sales. Shoppers are sharing tips with each other on how to deal with the flooding. Garrels calls those MacGyver moments, after the improvising secret agent of 1980s TV fame. She says people are learning a lot about what can be done with tarps and duct tape.

In North Boulder, Colby Pearce is in his basement scraping the floor down to the cement and recalling his own MacGyver moment.

COLBY PEARCE: Just shoveling water for my life. Then I built this sort of MacGyver doghouse block contraption to try to get the water to go not down the stairwell, but out our driveway, because it was just coming down our backyard like a river.

MACK: Pearce says he thinks his actions helped. He ended up with only about an inch of water in his basement. He and his wife are waiting for the results of mold testing before deciding whether to just move away. Thousands of others across the state face similar choices. For HERE AND NOW, I'm Pat Mack in Boulder, Colorado.

YOUNG: Why do we think that in a few months we'll be doing a story on the effect of mold in that area? We'll keep an eye on that. But be back in one minute with more HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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