LDS Families Impacted by Historic Colorado Flooding
By Jason Swensen, Church News staff writer
Weather experts have called the historic flooding that brought death and massive destruction to much of Colorado a “100-year event.” Boulder Colorado Stake President Michael Williams isn’t buying it.
“This seems more like a 500-year event,” he said. “No one has ever seen anything like this.”
Several days of sustained heavy rainfall inundated parts of 19 Colorado counties, with some parts of the state receiving as much as 15 inches of rain in a two-day period. The state’s mountain towns were hit especially hard.
“All of the canyon drainage areas have been heavily affected with unheard of flooding,” added President Williams.
Six people died in the floods, with almost 300 Colorado residents still unaccounted for at press time, according to a FEMA operations brief. The floodwaters also prompted the evacuation of more than 18,000 people, including the entire town of Lyons. More than 1,800 homes have reportedly been destroyed, with another 16,000 homes suffering significant damage.
The flooding also caused dramatic disruptions to transportation routes because of damage to roads, bridges, dams, and other infrastructure.
Counted among the Coloradans impacted by the disaster were many Church members. All members and missionaries were reported safe and accounted for, but dozens of Latter-day Saint homes were damaged by floodwaters. Hundreds of other members were evacuated from their homes. No Church buildings were damaged.
The widespread flooding prompted a massive emergency response from the Colorado National Guard, along with scores of federal and state emergency workers. Initial efforts, of course, focused on rescuing stranded residents and coordinating evacuations. More than a dozen shelters were opened, offering food and shelter for hundreds of displaced families. No Church buildings had to be utilized as shelters.
President Williams said members have been willing and eager to help out all in need. Local priesthood leaders established contact with welfare officials at Church headquarters in Salt Lake City during the opening moments of the severe weather. Initial relief efforts consisted of small groups of members assisting impacted folks in their own wards and branches on a case-by-case basis. That allowed Church units to offer assistance to neighbors in need without getting in the way of civil authorities executing large-scale rescue and evacuation efforts.
“We’ve had members working in flooded basements, clearing out standing water, moving furniture damaged by the water, and shoveling out mud,” he said.
The full-time missionaries serving in impacted areas were also put to work, offering help wherever they were asked to go.
Displaced LDS families found shelter in the homes of relatives and fellow ward or branch members. Telephone communication was interrupted in some flooded regions for a time, so amateur radio operators proved to be valuable resources during the most severe moments of the disaster.
Other members helped however they were needed.
Brother Paul Felt, a resident of waterlogged Lyons, initially made sure his family was safe and protected when the flooding began. Then he set out on his tractor to check on his friends and fellow branch members. He reportedly happened upon eight different people in need of rescue, including an elderly woman who had to be retrieved from a second-floor window with Brother Felt’s backhoe. Through it all, he maintained his sense of humor, as demonstrated in emails to friends and relatives.
“I spent yesterday checking up on some elderly widows I have adopted over the years, wiring a friend’s generator, and cutting a mangled 3-foot culvert with a cutting torch,” he wrote. “Just a typical day in the flood zone.”
Brother Felt also echoed President Williams’s reports of camaraderie and support between impacted residents, members, and rescue workers.
“There is a strong sense of community here as neighbors [have] pulled together to help each other out,” he wrote.
Even before the floodwaters began to recede, Church members and their neighbors began assessing the long-term impact of the disaster. Essential infrastructure such as gas lines and sewer systems were destroyed in some areas and will need to be rebuilt. Mountain homes near Rocky Mountain National Park could be unreachable and uninhabitable for up to a year, according to the Associated Press.
President Williams said he anticipates a large-scale, Church-coordinated relief project once initial rescue and evacuation efforts have ended.