by Beth Dodd
(related cover story)
A severe flash flood caused devastation in Manitou Springs after 1.3 inches of rain fell on the southern end of the Waldo Canyon burn scar in about 30 minutes between 5:00 and 6:00 p.m. on Friday evening August 9th. Blackened water flooded both Fountain Creek and Williams Canyon Creek, poring four feet of flood water into the heart of the popular tourist town. The damage to homes, businesses and vehicles is still being evaluated, while boulders, branches, mud and other debris are being removed from streets and buildings in Manitou Springs.
U.S. Highway 24 was closed between Colorado Springs and Cascade for about four hours during the Friday night commute as emergency crews worked to assist motorists and clear the road. About 20 cars were trapped by rushing waters in the westbound lanes. Video clips show cars being swept along like toy boats. One man, Glenn Dotson, age 70, of Cascade, exited his car in the midst of the flood. He fell down in the water, but was safely taken into a vehicle by another driver.
A second man, identified as 53-year-old John Collins of Teller County, was not so fortunate. He was discovered dead on the highway underneath a large amount of debris around 11:30 p.m. It was unclear if Collins left his nearby vehicle on his own or if the floodwaters forced him from it before he was drowned, according to Lt. Jeff Kramer of the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office. Collins is survived by his wife Dana, and was a cement contractor and a regular patron at Gold Hill Java.
The eastbound side of Highway 24 was opened by 10:30 p.m. Friday night with a single lane of traffic moving in each direction. Mountain Jackpot photographer Charlie Chambers reported that it took him 2.5 hours to get home to Teller County from Colorado Springs. As of Saturday morning, two front end loaders and a trio of dump trucks were working to clear the debris, which was piled to the top of the center divider in some areas. The highway was fully opened in both directions later on Saturday.
In Manitou Springs, both Canon Ave and part of Manitou Ave were impacted by the flood waters with mud, trees, boulders, and stranded cars in the streets. Thee injuries were confirmed by the Manitou Springs Police. One woman suffered a broken leg while escaping from her home, which was completely destroyed. The Fountain Valley Swift Water Rescue team came to her aid. A man in the creek was rescued by local residents who fished him out using a power extension cord as a lifeline.
Videos showed the road in front of the Manitou Springs Post Office filled with raging water and the wall of Fountain Creek at the edge of the patio at Adams Mountain Café turned into a waterfall as the flood waters gushed into the creek. The popular restaurant has been damaged inside with two or three feet of floodwater invading the dining room and leaving behind several inches of gooey black mud.
As many as 20 local businesses may have been impacted, but according to Manitou Springs Mayor Marc Snyder, 90% of the community’s businesses were unaffected by the flood. The mayor said the city remains open and invited people to come to town to patronize the shops and restaurants.
However, as of Monday evening, the west end of Manitou Ave that connects the town with U.S. Highway 24 remains closed. The road there was damaged and will require repairs before it can be used again. Serpentine Drive, Washington Street, and the eastern Manitou Ave exit from Highway 24 are all undamaged and open. Utility crews have been out fixing damage to gas lines in the area, but an unconfirmed report said that residents on Canon Ave still did not have gas as of Monday evening. Canon Ave remained closed on Monday while clean up continued.
Police checked ID’s before allowing people into town on Friday night to ensure the security of the flood damaged area while emergency workers conducted a house to house search looking for people in need of aid. One person who refused to follow a police officer’s directions was arrested over the weekend. Colorado Springs Fire, El Paso County Sheriff, Cascade Volunteer Fire, Crystal Park Volunteer Fire, Fort Carson Fire, and Cimarron Hills Fire all responded to the flood event.
Conflicting reports say between eight and fifteen people spent Friday night at the Red Cross emergency shelter at the First Congregational Church on Pawnee Ave in Manitou. Mental health professionals were available at the shelter on Saturday.
The Craft Lager & Small Batch Beer Festival that was planned in Memorial Park for Saturday has been rescheduled as the park was closed and the pre-staged equipment was destroyed. The Festival is now rescheduled for August 17th at the Norris-Penrose Event Center from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. The event has been changed to a benefit to help support Manitou Springs. Visit the website www.craftlagerfestival.com for details.
Three individuals were announced missing after the flood by Manitou Springs Police Chief Joe Ribeiro, who spoke at a 10:30 a.m. news conference on Saturday. The three missing people were Juston Travis, a man named Steve who lives in a house on Narrows Road, and a woman seen clinging to a tree Friday evening with a black blouse, tan pants, and blonde hair. By Monday evening there was no one left unaccounted for and there were no reports of anyone missing friends or family members, although some media outlets are continuing to report that a woman is missing. The woman in the tree has been located, but her name is not being released to the public. “Some folks have lost their homes. There’s been some total destruction on a few homes and some significant damage to others,” said Chief Ribeiro, who did not have an accurate assessment of the damage at Saturday morning’s news conference. As of Monday evening, there was still no official announcement of the total losses, although one unconfirmed report claimed that five homes were destroyed. “We’re looking at complete destruction in our lower level,” said Steve Kudron, owner of Quacker Gift Shop on Manitou Ave. “It was a shock coming in. We had no idea it would be this bad.”
Chief Ribeiro also said that a lot of spontaneous volunteers were showing up to help with clean-up efforts, but officials were not able to manage them on Saturday. Many people came anyway with their wheelbarrows and shovels, and pitched in. Volunteers are now being directed to check-in with the Business of Art at 515 Manitou Ave, which has stepped up to coordinate the effort. Volunteers should come prepared with buckets, shovels, work gloves, work boots, long pants, long sleeve shirts, and eye protection. In addition to the people working on the ground, it was announced on Monday evening that the state of Colorado has agreed to contribute $400,000 to help Manitou Springs.
After all this, there was another flash flood warning issued for Manitou Springs and Cascade on Monday afternoon around 3:00 p.m. U.S. Highway 24 and Manitou Ave were closed for an hour and a half as a precaution. No serious additional damage occurred as the worst of the storm happened over the Crystal Park area rather than over Williams Canon. Flooding will continue to be a possibility in the area for the next couple of days and into the future.