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Friday, September 27, 2013

Flood-Ravaged Colorado Town Tries To Recover

A National Guard soldier carries bread into Lyons, Colo., Sept. 13, 2013. Access to the small mountain town was cut off after bridges were destroyed by flash flooding. (Kenneth Wajda/AP)

A National Guard soldier carries bread into Lyons, Colo., Sept. 13, 2013. Access to the small mountain town was cut off after bridges were destroyed by flash flooding. (Kenneth Wajda/AP)

Longtime Lyons, Colo., resident LaVern Johnson, 86, says there’s no sewer, water, electricity or gas in town, two weeks after the deadly flooding in Colorado. She says most of the residents have temporarily fled.

Town leaders met last night about how to get the town back on its feet. But LaVern says even though FEMA has been helpful, it will be a long time before the town bounces back.


  • LaVern Johnson, resident of Lyons, Colorado.



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

And we know that the town of Lyons, Colorado was hit hard by heavy rains and flooding two weeks ago. There's still no water, sewer, gas or electricity in this quarry town turned tourist haven about 20 minutes north of Boulder. We want to check in with 86-year-old life-long resident and community leader LaVern Johnson. She traveled back to this still largely evacuated town, Lyons, last night to attend a town meeting about getting everyone back on their feet. So LaVern, what's your take away from that meeting last night?

LAVERN JOHNSON: Well, actually, it was very good. They're going to have a week to make a plan, and they're going to let the electricity on where they can. However, they won't have any water or sewer, so they can't stay. But businesses can open up, those that aren't related to food. And that was really a big concern of the town because we didn't want them to have to leave town.

YOUNG: Well, we know people lost everything that they owned and people lost their lives. Eight people in Colorado died in that flooding, one of them in Lyons.


YOUNG: And I'm so sorry. I'm assuming you knew this person...

JOHNSON: Oh, yes. He was - I've known him since 1959 when he came to Lyons, and he had a job at the school.

YOUNG: Yeah.

JOHNSON: Coached and taught my boys in 1950s and '60s.

YOUNG: What was his name?

JOHNSON: Gerald Boland.

YOUNG: Gerald Boland. So you're all - you're wrestling with a lot. And you are 86 years old.

JOHNSON: Well, I'm in good shape.

YOUNG: Oh, you sound it. But...

JOHNSON: I am in good shape. Four years ago I broke my femur bone and I survived from that. But I contributed to square dancing.

YOUNG: Oh. Well...

JOHNSON: And I've been square dancing for 55 years.

YOUNG: Well...

JOHNSON: I'm going to tonight, so I recommend square dancing.

YOUNG: How great to hear that, you know, you can hold on to something that has been a ritual. But I'm wondering, did you ever think of not going back to Lyons?

JOHNSON: Oh, no. But it is gloomy when you go there, but no. Up there we know everybody and say hi to everybody and we meet people at the post office. And I'm in charge of the Lyons Redstone Museum, which is our old schoolhouse built in 1881. And it's on a hill, luckily. And of course everybody knows me. And so it's really a joyful time. I've been missing it.

YOUNG: Yeah. You want to be back. Well, we wish your town quick recovery from these devastating floods.

JOHNSON: Well, today they're having a meeting with FEMA. And there's also several towns around that were impacted but not so many people all at once. This is really unusual.

YOUNG: And you tell us you, so far, have felt that FEMA has been helpful.

JOHNSON: Yes. I would say yes. You hear about them in all these other tragedies, but you really don't know how they come from all over and they're all helpful. And they've all been kind. And we may have to call them a couple of times 'cause like with me, I wasn't impacted by the flood as to ruin in my house, but then we all had to leave.

YOUNG: In other words, it wasn't the flooding. It's the lack of electricity and all the other utilities.

JOHNSON: Yes. The impact in having to move, having to find some place to stay. All of us had to find family, hotels. Some of them are 50 miles away.

YOUNG: Yeah. Well, you come from a long line of homesteaders but we know you're going to make it. LaVern Johnson, community leader in Lyons, Colorado. Thanks so much for taking a second to speak with us.

JOHNSON: Ok. That was nice. Thank you.

YOUNG: Of such citizens strong towns are made. You're listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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