LYONS, Colo. — With rain still falling and the flood threat still real, authorities called on thousands more people in the inundated city of Boulder and a mountain hamlet to evacuate as a nearby creeks rose to dangerous levels.
The late-night reports from Boulder and the village of Eldorado Springs came as rescuers struggled to reach dozens of people cut off by flooding in Colorado mountain communities, while residents in the Denver area and other downstream communities were warned to stay off flooded streets.
The towns of Lyons, Jamestown and others in the Rocky Mountain foothills have been isolated by flooding and without power or telephone since rain hanging over the region all week intensified late Wednesday and early Thursday.
At least three people were killed and another was missing, and numerous people were forced to seek shelter up and down Colorado’s populated Front Range.
Late Thursday night, Boulder city officials said they sent a notice to head to higher ground to about 4,000 people living along Boulder Creek around the mouth of Boulder Canyon after 11 p.m. MDT, according to a report in Boulder’s Daily Camera newspaper.
Boulder County spokes-man James Burrus told The Associated Press that about 8,000 telephone numbers with the message to evacuate were called, but officials aren’t sure how many individuals that represented.
The alert was prompted by rapidly rising creek levels caused by water backing up at the mouth of the canyon because of debris and mud coming off the mountainsides, the city Office of Emergency Management said.
Early today, Burrus said the entire hamlet of Eldorado Springs, about 500 people, was urged to evacuate because of a flash flood and mudslide threat along South Boulder Creek.
In Lyons, residents took shelter on higher ground, including some at an elementary school. Although everyone was believed to be safe, the deluge was expected to continue into today.
“There’s no way out of town. There’s no way into town. So, basically, now we’re just on an island,” said Jason Stillman, 37, who was forced with his fiancee to evacuate their home in Lyons at about 3 a.m. after a nearby river began to overflow into the street.
Stillman, who sought shelter at a friend’s house on higher ground, went back to his neighborhood in the afternoon and saw how fast-moving water had overturned cars and swept away homes at a nearby trailer park.
“Water was just coming up over the bridge,” he said. “All kinds of debris and trees were just slamming into the bridge. Just surreal.”
The Colorado National Guard began trucking people out of Lyons on Thursday evening. To the north, residents along the Big Thompson Canyon in Larimer County, scene of the deadliest flash flood in state history, were also evacuated. The Big Thompson River flooded in 1976 after about a foot of rain fell in just four hours, killing 144 people.
Early today, the National Weather Service warned of more flash flooding in Loveland, according to the Denver Post. NOAA reported that the Big Thompson River at Drake is more than 4 feet above its flood stage of 6 feet.
Meanwhile, the Post said Fort Collins city officials closed bridges after a late-night surge on the Poudre River, after water began topping Seaman Reservoir in the Poudre Canyon. The city warned residents to stay clear of the river
Water roaring across U.S. Highway 36 south of Lyons prevented residents from leaving the Crestview subdivision, so Howard Wachtel arranged for someone to meet him at a roadblock for a ride to a gas station. He needed more gasoline to keep his generator running so he could pump water out of his basement.
“This is more like something out of the Bible. I saw one of my neighbors building an ark,” he joked, over the sound of the rushing water.
President Barack Obama signed an emergency declaration Thursday night, freeing federal aid and allowing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster relief efforts.
The rain has been produced by a low pressure system that has been stationed over Nevada since late Sunday, said National Weather Service meteorologist Todd Dankers in Boulder.
The low has drawn subtropical moisture from the Mexican mainland over New Mexico and into the Rockies’ foothills in Colorado — and it’s been trapped by a stationary upper level ridge over the Great Plains and another system over the Great Lakes, Dankers said. The moisture becomes rain when it hits the mountains, the end result of a system he described as “a monsoon conveyer belt.”
So-called monsoon rains common to Colorado usually occur in late July and August and are typically brief events that provide welcome moisture to a normally sunny, arid state.