Flash floods kill three in Colorado; more heavy rain expected

Torrential rainfall in Colorado has caused three deaths, destroyed a dam, and prompted massive road closures. The Colorado National Guard has been activated.

Brennan Linsley/AP
A city worker surveys high water levels on Boulder Creek following overnight flash flooding in downtown Boulder, Colo., Thursday, Sept 12, 2013.

Torrential flooding in northern Colorado has resulted in at least three deaths, mudslides, multiple road closures, and the destruction of one dam. The resulting high water levels are impeding search and rescue teams from reaching stranded residents and motorists in the Boulder area northwest of Denver.

Volunteers are trying to help stranded people until emergency crews can arrive, said Boulder Office of Emergency Management spokeswoman Gabrielle Boerkircher. 

The state's emergency staff and the Colorado National Guard were activated overnight, Gov. John Hickenlooper said at a press conference Thursday. At that time, said Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle, one fire crew was trapped by flood waters on the side of a mountain.

The National Weather Service has issued a flash flood warning for central and north central Colorado through Thursday evening. The heaviest rainfall is expected in the afternoon and evening, though flash floods are possible throughout the day, reported the weather service. 

Colorado Emergency Management Director Mike Chard said people should avoid creeks and waterways, and not attempt to cross flooded intersections in their cars. Boulder officials have not ordered evacuations, saying that more deaths are likely to occur when people get stuck in flood waters.

In some areas, nine-to-ten-foot walls of debris had accumulated. Boulder Creek is now running nine times faster than usual, said Sarah Huntley, a spokeswoman for the city of Boulder.

However, residents near southeast Estes Park were warned Wednesday night of a possible evacuation after a dam in the Big Elk Meadows area broke due to flood waters, reported the Larimer County office of Emergency Information.

"We're very concerned that land is continually unstable and water is going to keep coming down through the canyon," said Boulder EMA spokesman Andrew Bart. "We're also very concerned that there are definitely people trapped."

The National Weather Service issued a flash flood emergency for the county and northwest Jefferson County, while a mandatory evacuation order was in effect for the tiny community of Jamestown and the Fourmile wildfire burn area.

Some homes had collapsed in Jamestown, where dozens of people live, and the first reported death connected to the flood was caused by a collapsing house in the Jamestown area, reports The Denver Post. All roads in and out of the town are blocked by flood waters, and debris. 

The University of Colorado's Boulder campus was closed Thursday, and over 400 students, faculty, and staff members were evacuated.  

The flood also forced the American Red Cross to relocate an evacuation shelter in Boulder, reports the Chicago Tribune.

Four to six inches of rain had fallen since mid-Wednesday, with as much as seven inches in some areas. 

South of Denver, there have been several flash flood warnings in the area hit by last summer's Waldo Canyon Fire that resulted in the destruction of 347 homes and two deaths. Scorched soil absorbs less water, making it easier for water to build up and for flooding to occur. 

The Boulder Office of Emergency Management is currently reporting flood-related power outages that were expected to continue into Thursday morning. 

More than 700 customers were without power on Thursday morning in and around the city of Boulder, according to an outage map maintained by utility supplier Xcel Energy. 

"This is not your ordinary day, or your ordinary disaster," said Sheriff Pelle at the press conference. 

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