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Heroes of the Colorado floods: Tales of bravery by neighbors and strangers

As rescue operations continue in Colorado, evacuees and others say they are stunned and humbled by selfless acts by legions of people. The aid ranges from dramatic rescues in flooded streets to potluck dinners to feed a waterlogged community.

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The Fosters’ own home and property flooded badly, and over the next several days dozens of neighbors pitched in to move rocks and build barriers that the couple believes ultimately saved their driveway from being completely eroded. One man used his backhoe to drop off a load of wood to help out.

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“A lot of people have become makeshift dam builders in Boulder,” jokes Nate. “Every single person we know has offered to help,” adds Randi. “We have been so thankful for the community we’re in.”

In some of the small mountain communities that were cut off when roads disappeared, many residents relied on one another not only for necessities, but also for camaraderie and emotional support.

“In general, the community stayed in high spirits,” says Larry Shaw, who was evacuated from Pinewood Springs, about 20 miles north of Boulder, by Chinook helicopter on Monday after five days' isolation, without power. “Instead of asking, ‘why me?’ it was, ‘what can I do for you?’ ”

A store in Pinewood Springs with a functioning grill became a community hub where residents brought all their perishable food and held huge potlucks. People cooked pies in the functioning gas oven at a restaurant across the street. A few residents with generators turned them on for several hours and invited everyone over to watch the news or even a football game. “Everyone had a place to come, and not sit alone in the house, and have a sense of community,” says Mr. Shaw. “It was really beautiful.”

In the midst of the flooding – which displaced about 11,000 – countless people worked together to help threatened homes.

Stephanie Waddell of Boulder credits the dozens of people who worked outside her ranch house for three days – filling sandbags, dredging the ditch that was overflowing alongside her yard, and building barriers – with saving her home. Some were good friends, some were mere acquaintances, and many were total strangers who heard that her family needed help via social media or local listservs. People showed up with shovels, sandbags, pre-made peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches, drinks, and good humor.

“We would not have been able to do it on our own,” Ms. Waddell says. “It was incredibly humbling, the number of people who came by.”

The first night of the flooding, Waddell saw a man being swept down a flooded street and called 911. Rescuers came quickly and, using ropes and lifejackets, were able to save him. Five days later he came by, bruised but fine, to thank her and other neighbors. “It put a human face on it for me,” says Waddell. “That was someone who could have died.”

In the end, Waddell, like many people in flooded areas, says that even in the midst of destruction, the degree to which people helped each other was inspiring.

“This is community like I’ve never experienced,” says Waddell, who moved to Boulder from Chicago three years ago. “I think that’s a testament to Boulder, and to this area in general. I used to always watch natural disasters happen, and thought, why would anyone choose to stay there after that? Now I totally get it. This community is so amazing that I will stay. Probably in this house.”

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