ESTES PARK, Colo. — As Colorado mountain towns cut off for days by massive flooding slowly reopened, shopkeepers in this gateway to majestic Rocky Mountain National Park worked to both clean up and remove salvageable goods from ravaged businesses for fear the swollen Big Thompson River would rise again.
“We have limited time to get as much out as possible,” Aspen Evergreen owner Tamara Jarolimek said as she and her husband, James, worked furiously Sunday.
Outside, crews plowed up to a foot of mud left standing along Main Street after the river late Thursday and early Friday coursed through the heart of town.
“I hope I have enough flood insurance,” said Amy Hamrick, who had friends helping her pull up flooring and clear water and mud from the crawl space at her coffee shop. Her inventory, she said, was safely stashed at her home on higher grounds.
Meantime, hundreds of residents and evacuees gathered for updates from the town’s administrator, Frank Lancaster, who said “we are all crossing our fingers and praying” that it won’t happen again.
Across town, comparisons were repeatedly drawn to two historic and disastrous flash floods: the Big Thompson Canyon Flood of 1976 that killed 145 people, and the Lawn Lake flood of 1982 that killed three.
“Take those times 10, that’s what it looks like in the canyon,” said Deyn Johnson, owner of the Whispering Pines cottages, three of which floated down the river after massive amounts of water were released from the town’s dam. Johnson said the only warning she and her husband had to evacuate their home and their guest cabins came from their cat, Jezebel, who jumped on her sleeping husband at 4:30 a.m., batting at him and yowling.
“I always thought we were safe unless the dam went,” she said. “I credit the cat with saving my family and the lives of everyone in the cottages.”