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Stranded residents plucked from Colo. floodwaters

LYONS, Colo. — By truck and helicopter, thousands of people stranded by floodwaters came down from the Colorado Rockies on Friday, two days after seemingly endless rain turned normally scenic rivers and creeks into coffee-colored rapids that wrecked scores of roads and wiped out neighborhoods.

Authorities aimed to evacuate 2,500 people from the isolated mountain community of Lyons by the end of the day, either by National Guard convoys or airlifts.

One of them, Mary Hemme, recalled hearing sirens going off in the middle of the night and her husband saying they needed to leave. They stepped outside their trailer and into rushing water that nearly reached their knees.

She got in her car and tried to drive away.

"But I only got so far, because the river was rushing at me, so I threw it in reverse as fast as I could," Hemme said. "I was so afraid that I was going to die, that water came so fast."

Others were less fortunate. The body of a woman who had been swept away was found Friday near Boulder, raising the death toll to four.

National Guard troops aided by a break in the weather started airlifting 295 residents from the small community of Jamestown, which has been cut off and without power or water for more than a day.

Dean Hollenbaugh, 79, decided to take one of the helicopters after officials warned electricity and water could be disrupted for weeks.

"Essentially, what they were threatening us with is 'if you stay here, you may be here for a month,' " Hollenbaugh said as he waited for his son to pick him up from the Boulder airport. "I felt I was okay. I mean I've camped in the mountains for a week at a time."

Airlifts also were taking place to the east in Larimer County for people with special medical needs.

The relentless rush of water from higher ground turned towns into muddy swamps, and the rain returned Friday afternoon after a brief lull. In at least one community, pressure from the descending water caused sewer grates to erupt into huge black geysers.

Damage assessments were on hold, with many roads impassable and the rain expected to continue.

"This one's going to bring us to our knees," said Tom Simmons, president and co-owner of Crating Technologies, a Longmont packing service that had its warehouse inundated. "It's hoping against hope. We're out of business for a long time."

Most of the 90 miles of Interstate 25 from Denver to Cheyenne, Wyo., was closed Friday because of flooding from the St. Vrain, Poudre and Big Thompson rivers, transportation officials said.

Hundreds of people were forced to seek emergency shelter up and down Colorado's heavily populated Front Range, which has received more than 15 inches of rain this week, according to the National Weather Service.

That's about half the amount of precipitation that normally falls in the foothills near Boulder during an entire year.

Boulder County officials said 80 people were unaccounted for Friday.

A sight-impaired man was saved by his guide-dog Friday morning after the two were sucked down a drainage culvert and swept half-a-mile in northeast Denver.

"The dog was the hero," said Del Creason, a Denver police officer who was the first responder to the scene.

The victim, identified by Creason as Ronnie Webb, was knocked over by flood waters while walking the dog at 8:30 a.m.

"They both got sucked under 13th Avenue," Creason said.

Having grown up in the area, Creason knew the tunnels and where they would surface, he said.

"He and the dog were in the tunnel for 17 minutes," Creason said. "I'm sure he used the dog to keep afloat."

Both Webb and his dog are fine and have been reunited, Creason said.

Information from the Denver Post was used in this report.

Stranded residents plucked from Colo. floodwaters 09/13/13 [Last modified: Friday, September 13, 2013 11:12pm]
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