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Colorado flooding brings tales of dramatic rescues, improvisation (+photos)

By P. Solomon Banda

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Sept. 14 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

A muddy U.S. flag stands in front of flooded homes in Longmont, Colo., on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013. Floodwaters have affected a 4,500 square-mile section of the state. National Guard helicopters have been evacuating residents from the hardest hit communities.

Chris Schneider, Associated Press

BOULDER, Colo. — As people came down from the flooded foothills of the Colorado Rockies, they brought tales of dramatic rescues, heartbreaking loss and neighbors coming together to protect their families and homes. Here are a few of their stories:

Emma Hardy's husband woke her up Wednesday night to say a well-loved neighbor had been killed by a mudslide that crushed his Jamestown home. From that point on, the 46-year-old artist and her family were in constant motion, knocking on doors and trying to get people out.

But within hours, a new, impassable river formed and bisected the town.

"It was totally biblical," Hardy said. "And then it just started getting worse and worse."

They watched a 10-foot-high culvert smash their deck. By the time the rain slowed, the house was in the water, but, Hardy made sure to point out, "still standing."

A rental property Hardy owned was completely washed away.

"It's the river's house now," a neighbor observed outside an evacuation drop-off point at a high school.

Like many Jamestown residents, Hardy said she did not begin to process the scale of the disaster until she was flying away from the town.

"When you're bailing out buckets of water, you're not really thinking about anything. Now it's starting to sink in," she said.

The creek outside Terry Kishiyama's home just outside Lyons washed away the family's drinking well and much of their land.

"The river was just getting higher and higher to the point where we thought we were going to die," he said after walking off a school bus of evacuees. "You couldn't even talk because it was so loud."

Kishiyama, his wife, 5-year-old son and 1-year-old daughter hiked to a neighbor's house on higher ground. They shared a single toothbrush as they waited several days for rescue. Helicopters flew by in the distance, though none came near their location until Saturday morning.

Then, a military helicopter appeared across the river. Kishiyama's son whipped off his orange T-shirt and waved it over his head.

His wife shouted, "We have babies!"

Kishiyama made eye contact with the pilot. Finally, he knew they would be safe.

Residents along Gregory Creek near Boulder joined with students from the nearby University of Colorado in a frantic effort to save homes.

They raided each other's yards for flagstones, filled garbage bags with sand and used whatever else they could to make berms and divert the water away from the houses. Along the alley, which had turned into a fast-moving river, they strung a rope so they could safely maneuver.

The diversion tactics worked. Many of the homes had basement flooding, and some kitchens were damaged, but all the houses remained intact.

A conflict arose Saturday when city crews with dump trucks and front-end loaders showed up to remove some of the residents' handiwork. After some protests from homeowners, the crews left many of the diversion berms in place.

"People are extremely relieved, but we're not out of it yet," Charles Corfield said.

At Ted's Place, a convenience store at the entrance to Poudre Canyon west of Fort Collins, dark clouds gathered Saturday afternoon with the threat of more rain. Michael Sronce made his way down from his home in the canyon to get milk and bread for a neighbor with seven children.

"There's a lot of people up there who need food and need to get out," he said.

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