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Utah team goes door-to-door evacuating Colorado flooding victims

Published: Sunday, Sept. 15 2013 2:20 p.m. MDT

Members of the LDS Huntington Hills Ward in Ft. Collins, Colo., unload boxes of supplies Sunday, Sept. 15, 2013. Church services were dismissed two hours early and members were asked to donate various items to help flood victims in the area.

Pat Reavy, Deseret News

BOULDER, Colo. — Working through non-stop rain and flash flood warnings for most of the day, Utah Task Force 1 was put to work Sunday in "rescue mode" in Colorado's Boulder County.

The 75-member specialists from the Utah Urban Search and Rescue Team were deployed into the hard-hit Lefthand Canyon, an area that leads to the flood-ravaged communities of Jamestown, Lyons and Estes Park where many roadways have crumbled and bridges have been washed out.

The main goal of the team on Sunday was to convince residents who were still in their homes to evacuate, because they may not have any other chances to do so.

"There's people there that maybe don't understand the scope of the disaster and (don't know) that it might be awhile before any other help can come to them," said task force leader Erik Sandstrom. "The infrastructure is so destroyed, they might not be able to get out on their own or get others to come in for a long time."

Many of the mountain communities have lost power, water, cellphone and Internet service.

"This is one of their last chances to get out. So if they need food, water, medicine, anything, they need to leave the area," Sandstrom said. "They're telling us some of those roads that lead up there, it may be up to a year before they're rebuilt. The infrastructure is completely destroyed."

Utah Task Force 1 Commander Keith Bevan added that the operation was still in "rescue mode" and not recovery.

"We spent a lot of time speaking to people to make sure not only they, but their neighbors are accounted for. When you live in neighborhoods like that, traditionally everyone knows each other and they can clear areas more rapidly by just (talking to residents)," he said.

Task force member Karen Minchow was part of the crew that went door-to-door talking to and assisting residents near the mouth of Lefthand Canyon on Sunday.

"Quite a few were willing to (leave), but some weren't. They've lived there for a long time and been through a lot of different disasters, but they were all very nice and very appreciative," she said.

Travis Hobbs has been with the USAR team for 12 years. He said the Colorado incident was unique from the other disasters because days of rain and floods have caused damages over an enormous area.

"Most of the people (we came in contact with) have been out of communication for the past four days or so, so they didn't know how big and vast the disaster has been," he said.

The team saw several homes on Sunday that had suffered extensive damage.

"It was raining all day, really really rainy. There were washed out roads. We were walking through about 12 inches of water, lots of mudslides, debris. But it's kind of expected," said Utah Task Force 1 rescue specialist Josh Bailey.

The Utah group was divided into teams of 10. Two groups, or 20 people, were loaded onto a Chinook helicopter and were going to be dropped off about mid-canyon. But just as they were prepared to take off, heavy rain grounded the chopper and all the crew members had to unload.

That group hopes to get back into the air Monday morning.

Approximately 40 others were taken in three Colorado National Guard trucks to the base of the canyon to begin the same operation on the ground. They started at the bottom of the canyon and worked their way up.

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