Colorado: Scenes from a disaster

Margie Davis picked through debris in what used to be her back yard. She’s lived in the tiny mountain community of Glenhaven, Colo., for 16 years. Saturday (Sept. 21) was her second time back to the house she shares with her husband, mother and father-in-law, since flood waters overwhelmed the North Fork of the Big Thompson River and washed away most of Glenhaven.

“Right now we’re just trying to figure it out,” Margie said through tears.

The house is cut off now from … well, everything. To reach it, they have to bushwack over a forested, rocky ridge, then cross a debris field. They weren’t home when the flood water swamped the house, covering their floors and furniture with a thick layer of mud. As Devil’s Gulch Road and their yard were washed away, the top end of a 30-foot ponderosa pine crashed through their front door.

A few friends hiked in Saturday to help them recover things from the house and to pull out mud-covered carpets.

“We decided if we didn’t try it would be very sad,” Margie said. They started piling debris near a small remaining patch of road, as if setting garbage out for pickup – though no one even knew where the road would be located once it’s replaced.
“This used to be so beautiful,” she said, looking at what used to be a peaceful, wooded yard alongside what was a quiet stream. “It’s just so hard when you lose so much.”

Standing against the tide

In Estes Park, much of the damage occurred along Fish Creek – a waterway that’s often dry, and that residents didn’t remember ever becoming wider than about 4 feet. Fish Creek Road on the east side of the creek broke apart, and that turned out to save many of the homes along the west side, because now the water had a place to go. But it placed several other homes directly in the center of a river and a day or two from being destroyed.

Richard Barlow, pastor of biblical community and care at Rocky Mountain Church, was canvassing the neighborhood Friday with Shelby Smoker and Nelson Fuentes from ReachGlobal Crisis Response. Together, they decided enough was enough. The three of them began filling sandbags, hoping to reroute the water away from the homes.

As they worked – figuratively trying to hold back the tide with a broom – an excavator came rumbling up the road. Seeing the three sandbaggers, the driver veered from his intended route upstream, drove into the creek bed and dredged a deeper channel to divert the water away from the houses. Had the three not been out there sandbagging, it’s doubtful the excavator would have stopped. They consider that a God moment.

Seeing needs

Those moments come often in the wake of a disaster – largely because people are tuned into them, and to opportunities to serve others in need.

Jeff Foote, senior pastor at Grace Evangelical Free Church in Longmont, talked about a moment in church the Sunday after the floods hit. Parts of the community were devastated while other parts went relatively unscathed.

“A guy stood up and said, ‘It’s easy to pretend it isn’t happening, because it isn’t happening to me. But you realize, all you have to do is turn your head just a little bit, and focus on something other than yourself, and you realize, oh, wow. That’s devastating.’”

Neighbors look up

In Boulder, where 17 inches of rain fell in three days, representatives from about 35 churches met several days after the storm to talk about how they could work together.

“As in most disasters, it gives opportunities that that Lord wants to put before his people,” says Tom Shirk, Senior Pastor at Calvary Bible Church (EFC). “It’s been both challenging and good.”

At one heavily damaged Boulder home, neighbors dropped by to help. Those included a Hispanic man who couldn’t speak English.

“So he went home and got his son to translate and asked, ‘What do you need, what can I do?’” Shirk says. “He went to work at this guy’s house, shoveling mud.”

“People have met their neighbors and reached out in way that typically doesn’t happen when everybody’s got their heads down, looking at their own stuff.”

Cleanup is one challenge; another is transportation. Washed-out roads have turned 15-minute commutes into two or three hour drives across the mountains.

It’s gonna be a life-changer for people who won’t have roads for months to their homes,” Shirk says. “Winter’s coming. It’s not an easy time to be building roadways.”

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