By Keith Coffman
BOULDER, Colo. (Reuters) – At least three people have died in flash flooding unleashed by torrential rain in Colorado which has forced hundreds to flee to higher ground as rising water made buildings collapse and stranded motorists in their cars, officials said on Thursday.
Heavy downpours drenched Colorado’s biggest urban areas, stretching 130 miles along the eastern slopes of the Rockies from Fort Collins near the Wyoming border south through Boulder, Denver and Colorado Springs.
Among the hardest-hit areas was Boulder County, where the National Weather Service issued a flash-flood warning through 10 p.m. local time. Flood watches were also posted for several counties in central and north-central parts of Colorado.
At least 6 inches of rain has fallen on the city of Boulder and up to 8 inches were measured in the foothills west of town, said Kari Bowen, a Weather Service meteorologist in Boulder, northwest of Denver.
Boulder Creek, which runs through the heart of the city and the University of Colorado’s Boulder campus, turned into a raging torrent that overran its banks and flooded adjacent parking lots and streets.
Mud and debris littered the area around the city’s public library, which was closed, along with the campus and all municipal office buildings. More than 400 students were evacuated from ground-floor campus housing overnight, campus police spokesman Ryan Huff said.
Ron Cobbley, 49, a homeless man who was out camping along the Saint Vrain River west of Boulder near the town of Ward, said he decided to leave the woods and head into town after three days in the rain.
“It was raging with whitewater,” he said of the river.
Steady rain began falling Monday but grew more intense late Tuesday and into Wednesday. Roads across the region were flooded out, and standing water throughout Denver snarled morning rush-hour in the state capital.
“These constant rainstorms we typically don’t see (in eastern Colorado),” the Weather Service’s Bowen said.
EXTREMELY DANGEROUS CONDITIONS
A Boulder County Office of Emergency Management spokesman said conditions were “extremely dangerous” and that up to 4 inches of additional rain was expected to fall in the area on Thursday before tapering off.
All 200 residents of Jamestown, just north of Boulder, were forced to flee overnight, while the town of Lyons, further to the north, was cut off as floodwaters washed out U.S. Route 36 linking Lyons to Boulder, county Sheriff Joe Pelle said.
He said Lyons reported that its residents had no fresh running water and that its sewer plant had been knocked out.
“We’re trying desperately to get to them,” Pelle said.
The Larimer County Sheriff’s Office reported in a Twitter posting that a dam had burst, and that “extrication operations” were under way, but no further information was immediately available.
At least two people died in flooding in Boulder County, one whose body was found in a collapsed home by emergency crews searching door to door for victims in and around Jamestown, county officials said
The body of a third victim, a man, was found by police on flood-watch patrols in Colorado Springs, about 100 miles to the south, officials said.
Pelle said it was possible that more flood-related fatalities could emerge as emergency crews reached areas cut off by high water.
“There is water everywhere,” said Andrew Barth, the emergency management spokesman in Boulder County. “We’ve had several structural collapses. There’s mud and muck and debris everywhere. Cars are stranded all over the place.”
In Broomfield, a small town just northwest of Denver, three people were rescued from an upside-down car that was swept into a washed-out culvert along a roadway with two other vehicles, the Boulder Emergency Management Office said.