Surviving Lyons After the Colorado Floods

Photo from the ImaGeo blog, Credit: Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

Whether or not you experienced the Colorado floods, this essay, Dispatch from Twiggly Island,  published in High Country News, is worth a full read…it was nearly impossible to cut any of it. Public radio reporter Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock describes how the people of Lyons came together, and lived together to survive last month’s floods as the St. Vrain overtook homes, roads, cars and more:

…The rivers were no longer civilized, but the people of Lyons were. When the South St. Vrain went ballistic at 2 a.m., our neighbor knocked to tell us that people were evacuating. “I couldn’t leave without you guys,” he said. He was new to the neighborhood, and I’d only met him twice. Within minutes, our phone was ringing with offers of places to stay. We scrambled four blocks uphill to the house of our friends Dave and Alison, who were smart enough to build on high ground. (Although their emergency preparedness kit included just one bottle of white wine. Well, nobody’s perfect.)

That first night felt like a pajama party. Nine-year-old Cassidy busted out a bowl of Life cereal while her brother, Jaiden, hopped around in front of the television wearing a black robe dotted with skulls. Images of rising creeks and torrential rain in other Colorado counties flashed across the screen; over footage of university students jumping and playing in Boulder Creek, the newscaster dryly intoned, “This behavior is not advisable.” We finally went back to bed at 4 a.m., believing the world would be normal again in the morning. Instead, we woke to find that the St. Vrain had rearranged our town, marooning us on six isolated islands.

We called ours “Twiggley Island,” after the picture book Miss Twiggley’s Tree, by Dorothea Warren Fox. It’s about a woman who lives in a tree. Everyone thinks she’s odd until there’s a flood; then the whole town takes refuge in her tree house, and she becomes a hero. Miss Twiggley’s Tree became required reading, as we lost power and more and more people sought refuge with us. One neighbor arrived wearing only a muumuu, unable to retrieve any other clothes. Her 2-year-old cat, Ruby, freaked out and refused to eat or drink; she had to have water dripped into her mouth every hour. Laurie had lived in Lyons for almost 40 years and never seen anything like this. “I had a brand-new shower that I was going to install in my outbuilding. It was sitting on the porch and it just floated away.”

Another neighbor showed up with a cooler of bottled milk, delivered from the Longmont Dairy just two days earlier. The situation wasn’t critical, we decided, until the half-and-half ran out.

Isolated and out of touch on Twiggley Island, we didn’t know that many of our friends and neighbors were struggling just to survive. We didn’t know that a dear friend’s father had died in the flood. We didn’t know that many of us had already lost our homes for good. All we knew was that we needed to conserve water and save food before it spoiled. We needed to stockpile camping gear, headlamps, and water purifiers. Someone had half a cow that had to be eaten before it went bad; Twiggley Islanders adhered to the Paleo diet. We planned to stick it out together as long as necessary. But after three days, everyone was told to leave. We were a liability to rescue efforts higher up the canyon, and with our water treatment plant damaged, E-coli or other health risks posed a real possibility.

As I watched my Lyons friends and neighbors evacuate Twiggley Island — one car at a time, over the only usable bridge — I felt incapable of describing what I was seeing. I had always clung to words, using them like life rafts to float around the bends. But that metaphor no longer worked for me…

Curious of how things were looking during the flood? Check out this blog post, in which reporter Tom Yulsman is in touch with Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock during the flood– you’ll see a slightly different perspective, including photos. From Yulsman’s post:

At about 2 a.m. I saw a Tweet from my good friend Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock, who lives in Lyons, Colorado, saying that she was being evacuated from her home because of flooding. Then, nothing.

Until a few minutes ago, when she posted 25 photos to Facebook showing what the “biblical”-scale rainfall here in the Denver-Boulder area (as the National Weather Service describes it) has done to her town at the foot of the mountains. She reports that she is safe, but that she and her family are totally cut off in the town — they cannot get out.

From Facebook: “Tom, we are in a good spot and totally isolated. No way in or out.”

She reports that her home is getting hit in the front by North Saint Vrain Creek, and from the back by South Saint Vrain Creek. “We can’t get to it.”

This area has received about 9 inches of rain in 18 hours, compared to the average for the entire month of September of 1.68 inches. Flooding is widespread, and minutes ago I heard reports from the University of Colorado that a “wall of water” was rampaging down Boulder Canyon. Not sure what is happening with that yet. Suffice it to say, this is bad.

Bonnie-Sue has given me permission to share her pictures here. All of them were taken in Lyons. So far, I have seen no other on-scene images of what’s happening there.

Do you have a story from the floods that you’d like to share? Comment below!

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