Flash flood watches and warnings peppered the weekend in the Pikes Peak region, with skies darkening ominously as thunder and rain rolled in each afternoon. Last night’s warning was canceled early, and Highway 24 and Manitou Springs were spared a repeat of Friday’s devastating flooding.
"It's pretty clear we took a pretty big hit," Manitou Springs Mayor Marc Snyder said at Saturday morning's press conference. "I guess one way to characterize it would be we had a July 1 Williams Canyon event, and a July 10 Waldo Canyon event at the same time. And probably on a magnitude of two or three times as severe as those two previous events."
Both those storms stranded motorists on Highway 24, and the first caused serious property damage. Friday’s event did the same, but also left one person dead and as of Sunday, another missing.
Justin Blount was working in the Spa Building when the flood tore through. "I could see the roaring, roaring river it looked like," he said, "roaring black river coming down Canyon Avenue. It was wild."
The Spa Building and surrounding businesses were hammered on both sides, with the overflowing Fountain Creek in the front running along the main road, Manitou Avenue, and Canon Avenue behind it. That road appeared to suffer the most damage. It leads up to the mouth of Williams Canyon, where Manitou Springs Fire Department Lieutenant Steve Schoepper describes one home.
"You see that house right there, where it’s all bowed out right there?" he said. "That had water flowing through it. On the other end of that house, it’s like a complete tunnel. The debris and everything was flying through that. That right there in front of there, that’s a foundation. That was a house. That was one of these small little houses here, but it’s completely gone."
Officials estimate six destroyed buildings, two of which were damaged in previous flood events. 11 were deemed “limited entry,” while 23 suffered lighter damages. 40 cars had to be removed.
Manitou Springs mayor Marc Snyder says there’s a fatigue that comes with the constant threat of flash flooding, and calls the damages heartbreaking.
"At the same time," Snyder added, "I’m just so impressed with our community, the way they rally and respond and help each other out. I’ve never seen so many people walking up and down Manitou Avenue with shovels and brooms covered with muck. Nobody asked them to come out and start helping their neighbors; they just did it on their own."
Volunteers poured into town over the weekend to help residents and business owners clean up. So many, in fact, that Manitou Springs officials announced two injuries to volunteers on Saturday, and instituted a check-in procedure for the following day.
Geoff Peters and 11-year-old Mason of Colorado Springs were out on Sunday, shovels in hand.
"We spend a lot of time coming out here for the arcade and for Adam’s Mountain," Peters said, "and lots of other stuff, so we just decided we spend a lot of time out here, so we thought we’d come out and see if we could help now."
The Red Cross, Salvation Army and others were also on hand in support of the residents and businesses, and also for the volunteers. Saint Andrews Episcopal Church near the corner of Manitou and Canon Avenues had an open door policy, offering food, water, and restrooms to volunteers. Frances Mutolo is a Deacon there.
"People have just been coming in and helping and they are filthy dirty, and what they’re working with is not just dirt. It’s yucky stuff," Mutolo said. "Dangerous yucky stuff. So here at the church, we just thought we would provide a place for them to wash their hands before they ate, we brought out food, and then other people started bringing food as well."
Bucket brigades, shovelers, power washers, where there was a need, there seemed to be a hand, along Manitou Avenue and beyond. But recovery will take some time, and the monsoon season continues.
Manitou Springs Police Chief Joe Ribiero says efforts to catch debris and ease the water flows are ongoing. But, he said, it’s also a course of nature.
"I think it’s just reasonable to expect that we will continue to see more of these kind of events," Ribiero said. "We’re gonna continue to try to find ways to protect our community. We’re gonna continue to look for opportunities for mitigation and ways to slow down the water and try to reduce the damage that this stuff causes."
Officials maintain it’s important for people to stay aware of the weather conditions, and to seek higher ground when faced with a flash flood warning. Health officials also encourage anyone who may be handling debris to ensure they have updated tetanus boosters, and to wear proper clothing and safety gear.
Colorado Springs Gazette: Manitou business owners wade through muck to assess losses
Correction: The original post misnamed Mason, and misspelled Geoff. Both text and audio are corrected.