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University of Colorado Denver | Anschutz Medical Campus

University of Colorado Denver, Newsroom

University community affected by historic flood

Victims of storm overwhelmed by offers of help and messages of concern

9/17/2013
A truck lies on its side after a road in Sunshine Canyon gives way due to flooding

By University Communications

The calm after the storm.  Although the relentless rain has passed, the record-breaking storm has left many parts of Colorado in ruins. Students, faculty and staff at the University of Colorado Denver | Anschutz Medical Campus have been affected in countless ways.

The scale of devastation is immeasurable. Following are just a few stories of how our university community dealt with the 100-year flood of 2013. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families impacted by the storm, especially people who have been displaced from their homes.

Zach Ornitz, academic services, CU Online

LEFTHAND CANYON, Colo. - Zach Ornitz and his family drove away from their home in the rain-drenched hills above Jamestown on Thursday thinking they'd grab a pizza and head back.

"We left with the shirts on our back and a diaper bag for our 20-month-old son," Ornitz said. "But as we were driving out of the canyon the roads were so bad we realized that we weren't coming back, and we didn't want to put our son in that position."

Ornitz, his significant other, son and dog are now staying with friends in Longmont. A major portion of the road that leads to their home, Lefthand Canyon Drive, was destroyed by onrushing water. Their home is still standing, but the electricity is out and the water pump, which drew from a nearby creek, was demolished.

Ornitz said it likely won't be until spring that the access road is repaired, so he is reaching out to anyone who might be able to help them locate affordable housing until they can return.

"We're going to look in and outside of Boulder, but we'll feel much more settled and 'normal' once we have a permanent place to stay," he said. "We want to stay in the Boulder area (Longmont, Boulder, Louisville) so that we can still use Henry's daycare. Right now it is the only constant in his life and we must maintain that for him."

If you can offer help to Ornitz, email him at Zachary.Ornitz@ucdenver.edu.

Callie Rennison, faculty, CU Denver

BOULDER, Colo. - Callie Rennison, Ph.D., an associate professor in the School of Public Affairs and faculty researcher affiliate for the Buechner Institute for Governance, lives in south Boulder with her husband, Dave Vaughan. “I never dreamed something like this would happen here,” said Rennison, who is originally from Houston. Like so many other Coloradans, she and her husband are shocked by the amount of water. 

Their house is the only one on their block that did not flood, but that has not stopped them from taking on massive amounts of water. 

How did they do it?  “An excellent sump pump,” Rennison said. Shocked to learn that many of their neighbors did not own such pumps, Rennison and Vaughan spent hours lending their pump out to neighbors.

Rennison also accounted their “luck” of staying dry to a newly remodeled home. Up-to-date drains and clean gutters made a huge difference in keeping their home dry. “Our two next-door neighbors had clogged gutters meaning the rainwater spilled over the edge of the gutters overwhelming the slab,” she said. 

For Rennison and Vaughan, this experience has been “wild and sad.” The devastation to the CU Boulder campus, local businesses, homes, and roads is just part of the impact. Multiple deaths and missing people have truly made this a crisis. “It has (been) difficult to focus on work," Rennison said. "It’s been exhausting worrying, too.” 

Michelle Carpenter, faculty, CU Denver

BOULDER, Colo. - Michelle Carpenter, an asssistant professor of visual arts in the College of Arts & Media, is becoming accustomed to disaster striking her Sunshine Canyon neighborhood west of Boulder. Her family's home managed to remain standing after the September 2010 Fourmile fire, and now their property has been in the bullseye of torrential rains.

The storm cut a gaping hole through the middle of the dirt road that leads to their house. "The road is impassable below our house," Carpenter said on Friday. "If our neighbors didn't have a car parked on the other side (of the washed-out section) we would have had to have someone from town come up (and deliver supplies). I've never seen anything like this. I've been up here for 17 years."

Carpenter said sump pumps were running nonstop to keep the basement from flooding. "You can't believe the amount of debris that came down. There are some ravines in front of homes that are like 10 feet deep."

She will have to rent a car to get to work because she can't get her vehicle out "unless it flies," said Carpenter, adding some levity to a difficult situation. "We're just waiting for the locusts to come, the pestilence."

Cory Christiansen, faculty, Anschutz Medical Campus

LYONS, Colo. - Cory Christiansen, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Physical Therapy Program at the Anschutz Medical Campus, lives with his family in the small Boulder County community of Lyons, most of which flooded in the storms.

"My family and I are now safe and dry," Christiansen wrote in an email to colleagues Sunday. "We have arranged housing for now and all is well. Our house is in good shape, the major issues being lack of utilities and inability to travel to and from the home due to all the other problems."

Christiansen said he has been overwhelmed with offers of help and messages of concern. He said that currently the sheriff, Town of Lyons, National Guard and Federal Emergency Management Agency are handling the crisis. "Opportunities to help will present in the following weeks," he said. "Thanks again, and I reiterate that all is well with my family. We have no needs. There are others in town who will need support over the long run, but everyone in my area is now able to get out."

Laura Ferre, student, CU Denver

DENVER - Laura Ferre, an undergraduate in geography and environmental sciences, found the importance of her internship project -- studying dam inundation vulnerability -- suddenly magnified amid the torrential rain. Multiple dams around the region overflowed during the flooding.

Ferre has been an intern in the Dam Safety branch of the Colorado Division of Water Resources. "My project is a spatial analysis of socially vulnerable populations within dam inundation areas," she said. "The DWR would like to use this analysis to supplement internal decision making around a variety of issues from dam inspection prioritization to emergency action plan grant awards."

Applying social vulnerability -- such as areas with aging populations that may need extra assistance in an evacuation -- gives a better idea of the consequence of dam failure, Ferre said. Her work includes critical infrastructure analysis, which includes emergency response, such as police and fire departments, and the built environment, such as roads and power lines. This analysis can help in temporary shelter placement, emergency management plans and future development.

"The rains this week highlight the significance of practical disaster research," Ferre said. "Social vulnerability research is particularly useful for any level of government or decision makers during all phases of the emergency management cycle: preparedness, rescue, recovery and mitigation. Mapping potential consequences identifies specific neighborhoods that will need assistance the most."

Ferre is a research assistant for Deb Thomas and Peter Anthamatten in the Department of Geography and Environmental Sciences. She said Bill McCormick, chief of dam safety for the Division of Water Resources, believes strongly in interagency cooperation. "Thanks to him I have been very fortunate to discuss my analysis with other federal, state and county departments. Their feedback has been very helpful to make the analysis as meaningful as possible."

(Photo at top courtesy of Michelle Carpenter, who lives in Sunshine Canyon west of Boulder. County Road 83 was undercut by flood waters and collapsed, tipping over this pickup truck.).

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Contact: christopher.casey@ucdenver.edu


 

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