Flood Cleanup Begins In Colorado

Sep 17, 2013

The rain has stopped and the flood waters are beginning to recede in Colorado.

Many communities are now trying to figure out how to move forward, the how to begin cleaning up and returning home.

Kate Rauch is spokeswoman for the city of Estes Park, Colo., one of the hardest-hit areas.

She told Here & Now that the cleanup process has already begun.

“I think it will take us a month or so to get back on our feet and really grasp what some of the temporary solutions might be, but we’re already working on it,” Rauch said.


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The rain has finally stopped and the floodwaters are beginning to recede in Colorado. But more than 11,000 people are still under evacuation orders there. And many communities are trying to figure out how to begin cleaning up and return home. Estes Park, Colorado, was one of the hardest-hit areas. Kate Rauch is the spokesperson for the local government there. And, Kate, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us.

KATE RAUCH: No problem.

PFEIFFER: Can you give us some sense of the extent of the damage out there? What do you see when you look around you?

RAUCH: You know, in Ester Park, we've seen a drastic receding of the water already, so that's good. But this left behind a lot of damage to our infrastructure. We don't know the cost estimate for that or, really, a good grasp on that yet, as we're still out there assessing. But we have a couple of roads that have suffered severe damage to the extent that they really aren't there anymore. One of our roads in (unintelligible) basically left four to five larger neighborhoods stranded on the other side. So we've been working to get those people out of there and make sure that they're taken cared of. It really had a massive effect on the community but we've pulled together and we're taking care of each other.

PFEIFFER: So these are key roads that are connecting communities to larger communities, not just roads heading up to hiking trails?

RAUCH: That's true. Within town, we have some damage to our local roads and we also have two of our major state highways coming into Estes Park that are severely damaged. And our state highway department is working to try to get that access restored to us. They've also opened up a small portion of another highway south of our town that's allowing essential traffic in and out. And our friends at Rocky Mountain National Park to our west have been able to keep Trail Ridge Road, which is a very beautiful, high-elevation highway coming over the national park across the continental divide, open for us to also service essential traffic.

PFEIFFER: Are there any people that are still unaccounted for?

RAUCH: We are extremely fortunate in Estes Park that we have no reported injuries from this incident, and we have no reports of missing people. It's absolutely amazing.

PFEIFFER: And, Kate, what about people's homes and their cars and other personal property, what kind of destruction is there on that front?

RAUCH: We've lost some homes. We've had some businesses with some pretty severe damage. I know there are some cars that are lost. We don't have a good handle on the numbers of those things yet, but we've got some teams out in the community looking at that and trying to evaluate just what those numbers are.

PFEIFFER: And, Kate, one more infrastructure question. Has there been any drinking water that's been compromised, as you've seen the flooding effect, a lot of the infrastructure in your community?

RAUCH: We have an area in town that has a water outage. They lost some of the water lines in a small neighborhood. That's still off, so we're working for temporary solutions for those individuals. At one point, we had a boil order in effect for a neighborhood also in that area. But we tested, everything came through clear, and we lifted that boil order. So all of our city water is still healthy and safe to drink. So we're very fortunate.

PFEIFFER: At this point, is there any talk of the cleanup process, the rebuilding process; how long that could take and how much time and money that could take?

RAUCH: We're still trying to get a handle on that. As far as the money, I know that we have millions of dollars of infrastructure damage that we're working on. We'll have some utilities that we need to repair. And, you know, I think it will take us a month or so to get back on our feet and really grasp what some of the temporary solutions to these problems might be. But we're already working on it. We have crews out there helping to clean up the streets. We want to restore access to neighborhoods for these people as quickly as we can so they can try to get back to some normal (unintelligible) of life. We want that for everybody as quickly as possible. We really hope that, you know, maybe sooner than later, we can open up the community again for people who are coming here for business or to visit. And we just need a little bit of time to get back on our feet, and we want to restore normalcy as soon as possible.

PFEIFFER: And, Kate, I was in Estes Park several years ago to visit the Rockies, so I know you're sort of the entrance community to the park. What kind of impact has this had on tourism? And do you it as a lasting impact?

RAUCH: I think it will impact tourism for a while, but we have a lot of people that will still want to get up here. They'll want to come to Rocky Mountain National Park. There's a lot of the community that was not damaged. A lot of businesses have stayed open. Many that were in the flood plain at this point are still evacuated but we believe we'll soon be able to reopen. So I think that we'll get going here very soon, trying to get back to the normal visitor-driven economy that Estes Park has.

PFEIFFER: So it sounds like part of your challenge will be spreading the word that although there was damage there are parts that aren't damaged and we're still open for business.

RAUCH: Absolutely. We want people to know that we'll be open for business. We'll have some challenges with getting them here with the damage to the state highways around our community. But we're going to do everything we can to draw them back and keep our local businesses going. It's critical to us.

PFEIFFER: Kate Rauch is a spokesperson for Estes Park, Colorado, one of the areas that's been hard hit by that flooding out there. Kate, thanks so much and good luck.

RAUCH: Thank you.

PFEIFFER: Now let's get a sense of how the rest of state is doing. With us from KUNC in Greeley, Colorado, is Nathan Heffel. And, Nathan, state officials have said at least eight fatalities, more than 600 people unaccounted for in the state. Any sense of how many people are missing in your area?

NATHAN HEFFEL, BYLINE: Well, we're definitely seeing that there are hundreds still missing in Northern Colorado, missing being unaccounted for, where they may just not be reachable by cellphone or things, that they're still cut off in areas of Northern Colorado.

PFEIFFER: And the Denver Post is reporting that the richest oil field in Colorado is under water. So tell us about that and what that means economically and environmentally.

HEFFEL: Well, it's interesting. Since we were talking about mountain communities and communities in the foothills of Colorado, all that floodwater rushed off of the mountains and flowed on to the eastern plains where there is a large oil and gas industry. And we've seen pictures on television and in newspapers of oil wells that have been overturned and things like that. The oil and gas association president says, yes, there was heavily inundated areas by flooding, but they haven't found any significant damage, that they're still too early in the game to really figure out how severe the situation is. Environmental activists saying that this needs to be - that needs to be the next big story. But what is known is that there were oil and gas developments that were submerged by floodwaters for a large amount of time.

PFEIFFER: And, Nathan, as we said, we were talking to Kate Rauch at Estes Park, more than 11,000 people have been under evacuation orders. What areas or what have they been told about when they can return home?

HEFFEL: Well, the unincorporated town of Lyons, which was cut off during the flooding, they're starting to let people in today with passes and if they have a valid address. Other places are still evacuated, 'cause the floodwaters are still sitting in communities, in homes and in neighborhoods. So as some places are being led back in, others, it may be months before people are able to get back home to survey the damage.

PFEIFFER: So quite a lot of aftermath, quite of a lot of clean up to do in Colorado. That's Nathan Heffel. Here's a reporter with KUNC in Greeley, Colorado. Nathan, thank you very much.

HEFFEL: Thank you.

PFEIFFER: Back in a minute. HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.