Photo: Flooding in Colorado (Samaritan's Purse)
Rescue and relief aid workers have continued to work diligently in spite of the fog, heavy rain and flooding that has left mass devastation across a wide area of northern Colorado.
According to reports from the Colorado Office of Emergency Management, 17 counties in Colorado have been impacted from the historic flooding. About 11,750 homes have been evacuated and rescuers continue to search for 648 people who are still missing statewide. Eight fatalities have been reported. There are 24 shelters open, housing 536 people.
Boulder and Larimer are among the worst-hit counties. Authorities said some areas have experienced as much as 15-to-16 inches of rain in a three-day period. As a result of the severe storms, major roads have been closed and thousands of homes are without power. Highways and bridges have also collapsed in the midst of the torrential downpour and rising floodwaters. Many also fear more flash flooding, landslides and mudslides.
Rainfall over the past week has caused the flooding that has left approximately 19,000 homes damaged and more than 1,500 destroyed. More than 700 people have been evacuated by helicopter, making it the most significant aerial rescue since Hurricane Katrina. Operations were halted on Sunday, due to more rain and severe weather conditions. Helicopters from the U.S. Army and Colorado and Wyoming National Guards resumed their efforts on Monday morning after the rains subsided. Tuesday’s weather was reported to be sunny and in the 80s.
Wayne Shoemaker, program manager for Samaritan’s Purse U.S. Disaster Relief, is on the ground in Colorado, leading the organization’s response efforts. He and another Samaritan’s Purse disaster response expert arrived early on Saturday morning and began meeting with local officials and churches.
Additionally, a Samaritan's Purse Disaster Relief Unit deployed from North Wilkesboro, N.C., arrived on Monday evening. The group has established a base camp in Niwot, Colo., at Rocky Mountain Christian Church, which is within 15 minutes of the hard-hit communities of Lyons, Clark and Longmont.
“There is a lot of devastation, in every direction,” Shoemaker said.
The church will house the disaster response staff and a site management team, as well as volunteers. Upon arrival, teams immediately began to provide equipment and tools to churches that were already engaged in relief aid efforts. Samaritan’s Purse officials are also in the process of coordinating and training a group of local volunteers that will begin helping homeowners once each of the communities are open to assistance.
Reports have indicated that there is a gamut of flood damage, including mud-filled homes. People are also scrambling to remove their personal belongings from damaged homes. Those who didn’t lose their homes are reaching out to their neighbors by filling up their cars with people, taking them to their homes, and providing them with lodging. Emergency management workers have been working around the clock to ensure everyone’s safety and clear areas as waters recede.
“Reaching all of the people in a timely manner will probably be one of the biggest issues,” Shoemaker said.
“From what I’ve seen of this flooding, it’s going to be a slow process. There is a lot of mud and filth that has to be removed from homes,” he continued.
He and his team are expected to write huge numbers of work orders, up to 500 or more, from people requesting assistance. Local volunteers will begin their work on Wednesday. Those who would like to volunteer on-site in Colorado may visit samaritanspurse.org or call (303) 301-7997. Those who aren’t close by are encouraged to pray. Supporters may also offer a financial donation.
“We will remain in the area as long as we have people asking for our assistance, and as long as we have the resources, we will be here to help people with their situations,” Shoemaker said.
Al New, deployment operations manager for the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team (RRT), said he and his team of 10 chaplains are working closely with Samaritan’s Purse. He arrived in Colorado on Saturday.
In assessing the situation, New described the situation as “extreme” and “severe.” Some of the areas are open, while others remain blocked by the police and the National Guard.
“We have encountered homeowners who have lost their homes and personal belongings,” New said. “Just this morning, as I tried to enter one of the many flooded areas, where homes are completely flooded and damaged, I was able to see firsthand, the mudslides, and homes that had water all the way up to the first-floor level.”
“The water has receded now, but it left behind furniture that’s totally destroyed, which came out of the homes. The sidewalks and the streets are full of furniture. Cleaning crews are in there trying to get all of the mud out of the way so it will be passable. There’s a lot of total destruction of homes as well as personal belongings,” he continued.
In addition to the physical help, organizations like Samaritan’s Purse and RRT have an opportunity to offer emotional and spiritual support. Based on the number of homes that have been flooded or damaged, they expect to be there for four to six weeks, or longer.
“We are working with the homeowners, who have just lost everything. Right, now they are still in a state of shock. Some of them are in survival mode and they really haven’t had time to reflect on what’s taken place. But, there will be a moment, when they have down time and that is when the chaplains will be there to help them get through those emotions, spiritually, and give them hope in the name of Jesus.”
CEO and Disaster Relief Coordinator Tim Mettey of Matthew 25: Ministries arrived in the Longmont area on Monday. His team of seven people are distributing personal care items, cleaning supplies, ice, water and food.
“We are right in the middle of the flooded areas. We are working from here and going out into all of the different communities,” said Tim Mettey.
In spite of the huge amount of devastation, Mettey said people are coming together and working hard to support one another.
“The morale is incredible. You see complete strangers going in and helping people clean out their homes. You might think that would be overwhelming, but they are happy to do it and feel lucky to be alive. There’s truly an amazing American spirit.”
World Vision is deploying to the area on Wednesday. Their staff has been in constant communication with partners and local agencies to access the various needs.
“Two truckloads of emergency supplies will be sent from our North Texas warehouse on Wednesday,” said Phyllis Freeman, World Vision’s national disaster response director.
The relief supplies include personal hygiene kits, blankets, paper goods and flood clean-up kits, with buckets and bleach.
“Our initial distributions will be made by local search and rescue teams,” she said.
Other humanitarian aid organizations have also deployed staff and volunteers to Colorado, including the Red Cross, Salvation Army, Colorado Southern Baptist Convention, Convoy of Hope and Operation Blessing, among others.
Over the weekend, President Obama issued a major disaster declaration and ordered federal aid to the flood victims.
A statement issued by Office of the Press Secretary on September 15 said: “The President reinforced his commitment to providing the necessary federal support to the state and local efforts. The President last night declared a major disaster in Colorado and authorized Federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts in the affected area, including the availability of Federal funds for affected individuals in Boulder County.”
At the president's direction, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) administrator Craig Fugate traveled to Colorado on Monday to ensure that the federal government is closely coordinating their efforts with the state and local response.
On Tuesday, Gov. John Hickenlooper, Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia and cabinet members continued to visit and assist flooded communities within many of the flood-ravaged Colorado counties.
Publication date: September 18, 2013