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In flooded Colorado, an anguished question: where to live, and for how long (+video)

For the thousands in Colorado displaced by the floods, the uncertainty is the hardest part. Even homes left standing may be inaccessible for months, and the future of entire communities could be in doubt.

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The last time Bruce Boeke saw his house there, just before he, his wife, and their three children were airlifted out on Friday, it was “awash,” he says: the entire first floor was flooded, the garage was completely filled with water, and water was flowing all around the house, over the yard and decks.

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Still, he says, his situation is better than some of his neighbors. “The last time I saw our house, it was still standing, and the second floor was untouched.”

Boeke and his family are currently staying with friends in Boulder. Once his wife’s parents can get back into their house – they were evacuated from the foothills just outside of Boulder as well – they’ll stay there. When they can return to Jamestown, he says, is a total question mark.

The town’s water system is destroyed, and the roads are obliterated.

“That’s the big question: Are we going to move back?” says Boeke, who is also on the town board. “We don’t know what FEMA is going to do, we don’t know if our house is inhabitable or repairable. Is Jamestown going to exist anymore? It’s a pretty close-knit community. The majority of people want to go back and rebuild, but there’s a lot of questions to be made.”

Lyons, a town of about 1,500 just north of Boulder and a popular bluegrass and music festival destination, is almost completely evacuated, and city officials have warned that it may be weeks or months before basic services like water treatment and power are restored. Much of the town flooded, and residents aren’t sure when they can return.

For Parker Johnson, who barely escaped the flooding Wednesday night with his wife and three young children, including an 8-month-old baby, he’s mostly just grateful he got out.

Like many residents, he says, he didn’t take seriously the severity of the flooding Wednesday night. He was busy trying to move belongings from his flooded lower level to the dry floor a few steps up when a neighbor – who had forded a raging river to get to him – came in to tell Mr. Johnson he had to get his family out immediately. Until then, Parker hadn’t noticed that the river had jumped the banks and was now flowing through his front yard.

“I went into complete shock,” Johnson says, choking up as he recalls his friend’s intervention.

Dressed in pajamas and flip flops – which were quickly ripped off – he and his wife loaded their children into their Jeep Cherokee and were soon floating in the flooded water. Johnson says he still doesn’t know how the car kept from stalling before it finally hit some dry ground and his tires were able to get traction.

His family is currently staying with friends in Boulder, and looking for a longer-term solution. He estimates it will be three to six months before they can return to their home – though, miraculously, the slightly elevated main level didn’t flood.

“There is not even a remembrance of where there was a driveway,” Johnson says, describing instead a huge trough of boulders and river stones that would be impassable to even the heaviest-duty truck.

“A question that has arisen in my mind is will anything ever fully return to normal,” he says. “Do we go back and completely reinvest our livelihoods?” Several of his elderly neighbors, he says, have already told him they’ll probably walk away rather than rebuild.

“Maybe I need to rethink what’s next for us,” he says. “And yet we love it here, we had an idyllic situation…. We’re proud of what an idyllic lovely town we live in, and we’ve taken a huge blow.”

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