Elgin Mayor Kaptain recounts events during trip to flood-ravaged Colorado
By Mike Danahey email@example.com @DanaheyECN on Twitter September 24, 2013 5:16PM
Updated: October 26, 2013 6:20AM
ELGIN — Mayor Dave Kaptain and his wife, Sandy, returned home Saturday from a vacation to Colorado, where they witnessed some of the devastation caused by recent floods.
The Kaptains drove west on Sept. 12, the Thursday after a city council meeting, and had planned to stay in Estes Park, which is known as the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park and where the couple has been visiting on and off for the last 20 years. With conditions what they were, the Kaptains were denied access to the area.
Kaptain noted that Route 34 — a main road between Estes Park and Loveland — was 85 percent gone because of the flooding.
“The governor (John Hickenlooper) said he thought things could be back in weeks, but that’s not going to happen,” Kaptain said. “(Damage) estimates already are at about $1 billion for infrastructure and another billion for loss of personal property.”
The torrential rain and flooding in Colorado earlier this month killed at least seven people, left 60 people missing, and destroyed more than 7,000 homes and businesses. The governor has approved $26 million in flood-related funding for an area that covers 17 counties.
The storms hit the eastern side of the Continental Divide, so the Kaptains wound up heading to the western side and the town of Grand Lake, where they stayed and where the government had set up an evacuation center.
While rain was just spotty where the couple had been on their way to their lodging, Kaptain heard reports of an inch-and-a-half of rain falling in a half-hour during what has been called a 1,000-year storm — where water poured out of canyons with the force of water coming out of fire hoses.
Media coverage of the flooding was non-stop in the state, Kaptain said, and showed the amazing hardship in which many have been left.
Images that stood out included video of a firetruck in Boulder with water rushing over its hood as it attempted rescue work — and of military helicopters being used to evacuate residents, hikers and stranded tourists.
Another memorable report concerned a drive to collect school supplies for children who had lost them because of the flood. And Kaptain recounted hearing about a man who lost everything in the waters — but for a ticket stub to a game the man had attended with his father just before his father died.
At the height of the disaster, more than 1,000 people were in shelters, compared to the 250 people in shelters this past weekend, when the Red Cross planned to deliver 17 truckloads of supplies to flood victims. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has distributed $12.3 million in aid, with the vast majority going to helping people find temporary rentals or making house repairs
Last Friday, transportation officials reopened state Route 119 between County Line and Interstate 25 in Longmont. Route 72 to Route 7 in Estes Park is also open, and officials are trying to reopen a stretch of Route 34 in Loveland soon. Colorado also is dealing with oil tank spills caused by the massive flooding.
An odd mix
Driving back to Illinois late last week, the Kaptains also noted that the floodwaters are making their way down the Platte River and were impacting towns along Interstate 80 in Colorado and Nebraska.
“It was an odd mix of flooding and dust,” Kaptain said.
Last weekend, several flooding records were broken along the South Platte River, and forecasters warned Monday that the water that inundated Colorado will be causing problems in central Nebraska this week.
Despite the records set in North Platte, Brady, Roscoe and other towns in the past few days, few major problems were reported because communities were able to prepare before the water arrived. Now that floodwaters are flowing into the Platte River channel, the National Weather Service is predicting only minor flooding this week in Kearney, Grand Island and the surrounding communities.
Some of the worst flooding problems in Nebraska thus far have been in Lincoln County, which is where the South and North Platte rivers merge to form the Platte River. The few flooded streets there and handful of evacuations there have still been relatively minor compared to the destruction in Colorado.
In North Platte, the South Platte River crested at 14.32 feet Sunday to set a record. The previous record level of 14 feet was set in June 1935.
The river also set a record in Brady at 10.2 feet Sunday — eclipsing the previous mark of 9.6 feet. Records were also set upstream in Roscoe, Neb., and Julesburg, Colo., late last week.
With wire reports