Most in Colorado thankful for Utah team's help but many don't want to leave

Published: Monday, Sept. 16 2013 6:55 p.m. MDT

Utah Task Force 1 members go door-to-door in Lefthand Canyon near Boulder, Colo., to check to see if any flood victims need help, Monday, Sept. 16, 2013.

Pat Reavy, Deseret News

BOULDER, Colo. — On one side of the street was a muddy driveway that needed hosing off. Across the street, however, there was a gulch and a river where a driveway once stood.

As Utah Task Force 1 — part of the National Urban Search and Rescue Response System — went door-to-door in the mountains of Boulder County Monday, crew members found that there was no rhyme or reason as to which structures were affected by the epic rains, mud and rock slides that have affected the area since Thursday, and those that were barely scratched.

The 75-member team has been in Boulder County since Friday helping flood victims and informing those who had not evacuated isolated mountain areas that they were there providing what may be their last opportunity to leave. Many of the areas have been cut off because of washed-out roads and bridges and the lack of electricity and running water.

Sunday, the team found many damaged homes in the mountains above Boulder in Lefthand Canyon and met residents that needed help getting out. On Monday, the ground crews were sent to the Boulder Heights area near the top of the canyon. Most of the homes there remained intact. There were several flooded basements, according to residents, but no major structural damage.

Still, the Utah team performed assigned tasks by going to each door and documenting the houses by GPS. They noted the houses that were vacant and counted how many people and pets were inside other homes, informing residents that rescue teams may not return again for a long time if they chose to stay.

Twenty-one Utah Task Force 1 members flew to the high Boulder foothills Monday after weather grounded them on Sunday.

The team was flown by a U.S. Army Chinook helicopter and performed rescues and search activities, said Task Force commander Keith Bevan. They assisted in loading people who had been isolated because of washed out roads and bridges onto the helicopter, which then flew them back to the Boulder Municipal Airport where services were made available for the displaced residents.

Nearly 2,000 residents have been airlifted to safety since Saturday in Boulder County alone. On Monday, however, most residents checked by Utah rescuers said they wanted to stay.

"There's no real reason for us to leave," homeowner Steve Abernathy told a crew checking his house. "We're going to play it day by day. We'll monitor it, but we're pretty optimistic things will be OK."

As the Utah Task Force 1 members approached each house, every homeowner initially seemed hesitant, and worried that the team was there to force them out. But the task force members approached each house with a smile and let residents know they could stay if they wanted.

"You can't force them out. It's not a mandatory evacuation. Most of them don't want to leave their homes. They don't see the problem. They've got food, they've got power, they've got utilities right now, so there's no reason for them to leave," said task force member Robert Conder.

At one home, no one answered the door even though the Utah team could see people inside. Crews are required to check for possible structural damage and look inside the windows of each house to see if everything looks OK. If there are no obvious signs of destruction or potential problems, the team documents the house and places a sticker or ribbon on the structure to show they've been there.

Some residents, however, expressed frustration that the only option they've been given is evacuation. Some who still have intact homes said they believe it would be more beneficial if the rescue crews would bring food and medicine up the canyon with them rather than telling residents to leave the area. Once residents pass certain street barricades, they aren't allowed to return to their neighborhoods.

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