Environment

Photos: Flooding Causes Death, Debris, Delays

The photos in this post depict the drainage area where the July 20 Poudre Canyon mudslide occurred.
Larimer County Sheriff's Office
The photos in this post depict the drainage area where the July 20 Poudre Canyon mudslide occurred.
A series of floods struck locations across Colorado this week, leaving devastation in their wake.

The most serious involved the Cache la Poudre River in Larimer County's Poudre Canyon, where the body of one woman has been recovered and three other people remain missing. But Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon was shut down for more than a day (it's currently open again), Colorado 125 in Grand County suffered impacts, and part of Colorado 133 near Redstone was slathered for a time with eight feet of mud.

According to the Larimer County Sheriff's Office, first reports about flooding in the Poudre Canyon above Rustic began coming in at around 6:05 p.m. on Tuesday, July 20.

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Larimer County Sheriff's Office
Responders soon ascertained that a mudslide had occurred near Black Hollow Road, sending what's described as "a large amount of debris" into the canyon.

At least five structures were destroyed by the slide, and the roadway was damaged. Authorities issued a mandatory evacuation order along Highway 14 from Rustic east to Ted's Place that was lifted by 10:30 p.m. on July 20, but residents were asked to remain on alert.

In the meantime, a woman's body was recovered and two other adults were reported missing. By 4:45 p.m. on Wednesday, July 21, deputies confirmed that they were searching for another woman as well.

Larimer County has set up a website devoted to Poudre Canyon flooding; here's a map of the affected area:


At 1:04 p.m. on July 21, the LCSO announced that the Poudre River was off-limits from the fish hatchery to the mouth of the canyon. "This restriction applies to all watercraft," it stated. "Under the direction of Larimer County Emergency Management, engineering crews will be assessing the structural integrity of bridges below the slide area, as a tremendous amount of debris (trees, mud, rocks and structures) has been washed into the river and we do not know what hazards exist currently and may arise as water continues to flow." Violations constitute a Class 2 petty offense under state law.

The sheriff's office anticipates that the restrictions will last through the weekend.

Meanwhile, the Colorado Department of Transportation issued travel alerts early on July 21 for Glenwood Canyon in order to give crews time to clear five separate mudslides. Three of the slides took place along eastbound I-70 at mile points 127.5 through 128.5, while another happened on the westbound side of the highway between mile point 130.5 and the Bair Ranch exit, with the fifth taking place on the Bair Ranch off-ramp. Closures were put in place at exits 87, 116 and 133, and weren't lifted until over 24 hours had passed.

The culprit once again was the Grizzly Creek fire burn area — a remnant from last year's terrible wildfire season.

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Larimer County Sheriff's Office
Meanwhile, Colorado 133 was struck with three mudslides on July 20 that closed the highway; by the next morning, the road had reopened at mile point 53 to one lane of alternating traffic. And around 2:30 p.m. on July 21, a mudslide closed Colorado 125 between Cabin Creek and Buffalo Creek.

Right now, the only ongoing highway closure listed on the state's cotrip.com site is U.S. 50 between Montrose and Gunnison, and that shutdown has to do with an ongoing construction project, not flooding. But weather-related problems could certainly recur. As the Larimer County Sheriff's Office points out, there are "forecasts for more potential flooding in the coming days."

This point is seconded by CDOT, which warns that travelers should be ready for disruptions and road closures due to weather issues through at least next week.

"Between the unrelenting weather forecast and the impacts we are seeing through Colorado, CDOT is asking travelers to take extra precautions, plan for additional time and double-check conditions before traveling," CDOT executive directior Shoshana Lew states. "Our crews will continue to monitor conditions closely and take what steps we can to keep people safe and return to normal as the weather allows. Once weather passes and crews can evaluate the impacts to the roadway, we are removing rocks and debris and making sure the road surface is safe before reopening."