Boulder Flood, part 2: September 12-15

1:45AM: I hung up the phone after talking with my boss and reached for my laptop.  Anxiously, I waited for it to connect to the wifi.

Lynn’s cat, Pouncer, sits on the bed next to me.  I remembered him lying by my feet last night as I tried to fall asleep.  I’ve cat-sit for him before and he’s treated me with indifference, but now I don’t think he’s left my side.

Wifi finally connects and I pull up the local news web site.  Severe flooding.  The university had already made the decision to close that day – and the university’s up on a hill.

I dialed our second-in-command at work.  No answer.  I dialed again.  No answer.  I started a text message asking her to contact me right away but before I could press send she called.

I told her about our boss losing his home.  We’d have to make a decision on if we should open tomorrow.  More specifically, she would have to make the decision.  Our “snow day” protocol was always to close.  We provide medical care, but nothing life-saving.  Nothing that can’t wait until roads are plowed.

But this was a flood.  All of our flood prep meetings over the years had planned for us to be closed.  Now that it was upon us, would this still be the plan?

As I paced the room trembling with my heart racing, I asked her – as a nurse – if she could tell me about the signs of shock.  “Are you cold or wet?”  No.  “Likely just adrenaline then.  Deep breaths.”

Ultimately we decided to wait until 5:30AM to make the “open or closed” call.

2:15AM:  I lay down to go back to sleep, but with all the adrenaline pumping, it’s impossible.  I just start repeating over and over, “God, please keep people safe.  God, please keep people safe.  God, please keep people safe.”  Pouncer lays against my leg and readjusts every time I do.

3:15AM: Still awake when my phone beeps with the newest emergency text message.  Storm expected to intensify.

I give up and go downstairs.  Settle on the couch in front of the TV to watch flood coverage.  (Pouncer curls up on the couch next to me.)  Non-stop coverage, but unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot that can be said.  Just looping shots of flooded streets, admonishments not to drive anywhere, more EBS interruptions.  I’m not surprised that it’s hard to assess what’s going on, in the middle of the darkness of night.

Eventually I mute the TV but keep it on.  The stream of information feels soothing, somehow.

5:30AM: I’m awoken by my coworker calling me back.  We’ll be closed today.  I tell her that I’ll contact our web master to put a notice on the site.

We disconnect and I see a very concerned text that came in during that call from our web master asking if I’m okay.  I call her back, assure her that I’m okay, tell her about our boss’s mudslide, we marvel at what’s happening, our boss’s mudslide, and ask her to update the site.

We disconnect and I see another concerned text that came in during that call.  I call that coworker and have the same conversation.  Minus asking him to update the web site.

I turn and see that Lynn has come down the stairs to find me on the phone talking about mudslides with the TV on.

5:50AM: I try to call my boss.  No answer.  I text him, asking if he’s still safe and got out.

6:15AM: Text from mom.  Any updates?  No.

6:30AM: Text from coworker.  Am I okay and is boss okay?  I’m okay, no update from boss but will keep her posted.

Through it all, watch flood coverage in astonishment.  In one video loop I see a shot of the building where I live; streets are flooded, but the building’s it clearly fine.  It’s an overnight shot; I wondering how many hours ago that shot was taken and what things look like now.

7:00AM: We’re the opening story on the Today show, including that overnight shot of my home.  We laugh about how my front door is famous.

With only about two hours of sleep under my belt, I head back to bed.  But every time I nearly drift off my phone buzzes again with calls and texts inquiring about my safety and offers of places to sleep.  Finally, I hand my phone to Lynn, telling her if boss calls to come wake me and go back to bed.  (Pouncer hops up on my bed again.)

11:30AM-ish?: I wake up and stumble to Lynn’s office.  She greets me warmly and hands me my phone, which has fourteen text messages and three voicemails.  I review and respond.  Learn others have been able to reach boss so he’s safe.

(No more timestamps.)  

I was glued to the non-stop news for much of the day – Lynn on her computer (working) and me in front of the TV with my laptop, calling across house any updates we thought the other would be interested in.  While I was curious if my home had flooded, I was more shocked by the extent of the flooding and the damage.  It wasn’t just Boulder any more; it was the whole front range.  I actually felt bad that Boulder was getting the lion’s share of the coverage; I was sure there were people in Colorado Springs and Aurora that wanted to hear more about their creeks and roads.  

In six years I had thought a lot about personal flooding preparedness.  Two years ago during a particularly wet spring I had moved sentimental items to the top of the kitchen cabinets, and put all my clothes on shelves and hangers instead of in drawers.  But I never really thought about if there was a flood how much that would impact the whole city – roads and infrastructure and such.  Seeing my beloved Boulder being slowly chewed up by the floodwaters was heartbreaking.

I tried to do something different, thinking it probably wasn’t healthy to be watching non-stop disaster coverage.  I tried a self-imposed Friends marathon, but couldn’t focus.  I tried playing games on the Wii, but that didn’t last long either.  Neither did reading.  So I keep coming back to coverage.  Marveling at the extent of the destruction.

We went to Walmart for a toothbrush, deodorant, and a blanket.  (I reasoned I need a comfort item, one that’s not covered in cat hair.)  We ate dinner and watched America’s Got Talent.

I was in bed reading when my phone rang.  Work was going to reopen on Friday as people were cut off from getting to the area hospitals and needed medical care.  (Sigh.  TWO hospitals built in floodplains.)  Though I can’t provide medical care myself, I would try to come in to work tomorrow to help out however I could.  

Friday, September 13 

Three emergency text messages on my phone when I woke up.  I knew flooding was expected to intensify overnight again, so I wasn’t surprised.  Looks like no going back to Boulder today.

Overnight e-mails from our apartment managers getting progressively more urgent – instrearucting going to the second floor, then a later one to the fourth floor.  Miraculously, though, when I read the news about the “thirty-foot wall of water” headed down the canyon, it had stopped somehow before reaching Boulder.  Maybe dammed up by debris.

Lynn and I were shocked to see footage of Lyons with only rooftops visible.  Horrible footage of the Poudre overflowing in northern Colorado.  Learning that Estes Park was completely cut off from the world except via Trail Ridge Road; what would happen in winter when that road was made completely impassable by snow?

Another day of flood coverage.  Napping.  Marveling at Boulder Creek reaching 5200 cubic feet per second.  Some more reading.  Learning that the Boulder flood was officially declared a 100-year-flood.  Another trip to Walmart to buy an extra shirt.  While there we saw some rainbow, polka-dotted Wellies.  I decided to get them and find out later if that was a luxury or necessity purchase.

My boss e-mailed pictures of his car, several hundred yards down the road from where his garage had been ripped from his house.  I laughed when I opened the first one.  “That’s not a car.  That’s a twisted pile of metal.”  (I later found someone took a picture of it for the news, too.)

Around 5:00PM I got an e-mail from our apartment managers saying the evacuation would be lifted at 6:00PM, and that there had been no reports of flooding in any apartments.  Honestly, I didn’t believe her.  With my proximity to the creek I wouldn’t believe that until I saw it with my own eyes.

Six o’clock was the same time I was due to be at church to leave for a weekend retreat in the mountains.  I had signed up several weeks earlier to help serve food.

I had thought long and hard about whether to still go.  I looked at the weather reports, which said continued rain Saturday and Sunday, so I reasoned it may not be wise to go home and be forced to evacuate again.  Plus, if I went home there were two options: my apartment would be flooded (which would mean a weekend of cleaning it out in the rain) or it would be dry (which would me there was no reason for me to have not gone on the retreat).

So at 6:00PM I got into a car and headed – quite literally – for higher ground.

The retreat was great.  The other ladies and I worked really hard in the dining hall busing tables and washing dishes for very grateful campers.  There was much dancing and really loud singing with the radio while vacuuming.  And it was nice to have a 40-hour respite from the reality of the floods.  

Sunday, September 15 

As we hit pouring rain on I-70 at Idaho Springs, the driver of our car asked, “So, why are we driving back into the flood?  In floods you’re supposed to go to higher ground.”  The rain was intense, but Sarah proved to be a very capable driver.

I got an emergency text about a new flash flood warning in Boulder.  Guess I wasn’t going back today after all.

Back at the church at noon, I stopped at the grocery store for lunch.  I asked a lady if they had hot soup, and noted the many shelves empty of perishable foods – though still packed with non-perishables.  I learned that she worked at a grocery store in Boulder a less than a mile from my house that had several feet of floodwater in it.

It took me two hours of reading e-mails and checking news sites before I felt like I was caught up on all that had happened during the two days I was gone.  I was shocked.

*****

Several e-mails have led me to decide to go back to my place tonight.  That things are dry.  I still won’t believe it until I see it.  Will tell you more about what I find later.

*****

Also, I realize that my tenses switch back and forth a lot in this post.  As a grammarian, it annoys me, but I’m not willing to take the time to re-read it before hitting publish.  So here ya go.

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