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Flood Damage Shuts Down An Entire Colo. Town


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

The rainstorms and flooding in Colorado over the past week have dealt an especially harsh blow to tiny Estes Park. Many of the roads were washed away, leaving the town that bills itself the gateway to the Rocky Mountain National Park essentially cut off from the rest of the state. Luke Runyon of member station KUNC reports the devastation leaves the town's tourist-dependent economy uncertain.

LUKE RUNYON, BYLINE: I'm driving along Highway 7, which is one of two winding mountain roads being used to get into Estes Park right now. The two main highways into town were taken out by floodwaters last week. It's a pretty harrowing drive to begin with, let alone the rockslides that have come onto the highway. So I'm going to turn the recorder off and focus on the road.

FRANK LANCASTER: So what we're looking at here is you can see where it took out the patios on the houses.

RUNYON: The town's administrator Frank Lancaster stands on the crumbling banks of the Big Thompson River. Last week, heavy rains altered the river's course, plowing into condominiums and hotels.

LANCASTER: And you can see all the sewer pipes just hanging off, not connected to anything where the infrastructure's been totally destroyed.

RUNYON: There are so many roads and bridges closed here. The town actually ran out of barricades and had to put up orange cones and yellow caution tape to keep cars out.

I'm walking through downtown Estes. There's a few open signs, not too many, most people sweeping and getting rid of some dirt. Let's pop in here.


TONI MILLER: Good morning. Thank you for calling Miller's Indian Village.

RUNYON: Toni Miller runs a small store that sells Native American crafts. The floodwaters barely touched the inside of her shop. It's not the flood damage in Estes Park that's causing Miller to worry. It's the leveled highways that feed tourists into town. The fate of the store, like many other businesses, is uncertain.

MILLER: Whatever we have to do to keep it going is what we're going to do. I don't know what that is. Sorry. It's very frightening to not know.

RUNYON: The whole town's economy is built around tourism, based on people going in and out of Rocky Mountain National Park. Restaurant and hotel owners are worried too. Estes Park elementary teacher Edie Keller has already seen the flood's effects on some of her students' families.

EDIE KELLER: We had a child picked up by his parents, and both parents were laid off from their jobs today. And these parents work two and three jobs at restaurants and housekeeping. And if visitors aren't coming, their employers aren't going to need them.

RUNYON: The floodwaters have begun to recede, but not enough for homeowner Joseph Curtin. His house used to be next to the usually calm Fish Creek. But the creek overflowed its banks, surrounding Curtin's log cabin-style home.

JOSEPH CURTIN: I mean, this looked like the Mississippi River here. It was really raging.

RUNYON: Curtin says reconstruction should be able to start soon when the town temporarily repairs main access roads. Most of his neighbors are still evacuated.

CURTIN: There's a lot of work needs to be done. But hopefully, you know, we'll get some resources in here and make some emergency repairs or something so that folks can at least get back in, you know?

RUNYON: The full cost of the flooding statewide isn't yet known. But with 1,500 homes destroyed and more than 19,000 buildings damaged, the total will be hefty. Even with all the destruction, Estes Park town administrator Frank Lancaster is hopeful.

LANCASTER: For a lot of people, it's not going to be life as normal for quite a while. But the town will be back on its feet very quickly.

RUNYON: At least this flooding didn't come in the spring when the town shifts into high gear for the summer tourism season. Still, state officials say it could be a year or more to repair some highways into town. For NPR News, I'm Luke Runyon in Estes Park, Colorado. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.