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Archive for Thursday, September 12, 2002

Hundreds stranded in homes after mudslides in Colorado

September 12, 2002

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— Heavy rains Wednesday sent full-grown trees, massive boulders and rivers of mud rushing across charred hillsides in southwestern Colorado, isolating hundreds of residents in their homes for the second time in less than a week.

No one was in immediate danger but roads near Durango were blocked by debris 10 feet high and boulders weighing several tons apiece, said La Plata County sheriff's Lt. Dan Bender.

Jim Attwood looks over his yard, strewn with boulders from
mudslides, at his home near Durango, Colo. Attwood's house is
downslope from where the Missionary Ridge fire burned, leaving his
property susceptible to mudslides.

Jim Attwood looks over his yard, strewn with boulders from mudslides, at his home near Durango, Colo. Attwood's house is downslope from where the Missionary Ridge fire burned, leaving his property susceptible to mudslides.

"What used to be a pine forest next to an upscale home is now a gaping hole and a boulder field," Bender said.

One to 3 inches of rain had fallen in the area since Tuesday afternoon. More rain was forecast later Wednesday, and authorities were bracing for additional mudslides.

Bender said the rain sent mud, trees and boulders rolling down hillsides that were left barren by the 70,485-acre Missionary Ridge wildfire in June.

"It was almost running like whitewater," Bender said.

There were no reports of mud moving into homes but several driveways were buried under boulders and gouges were cut across several properties as the mudslides literally changed the course of creeks, Bender said.

Mudslides hit the same area Saturday. At least five families had to leave their homes because of the damage, and another 12 families had heavy debris inside their homes.

The burned landscape is especially susceptible to mudslides because there is little vegetation to hold the soil in place.

Residents say the mudslides are one more nightmare in a summer marked by disaster.

"We call it the summer of hell," said Shirley Andersen, who has lived in the Durango area for 36 years. "This is the worst."

Andersen said there were mudslides on both sides of her house along County Road 250 on Wednesday, but her home was spared from damage.

"We were up all night. It rained real hard all night, and I could hear the plows and stuff trying to clean up the mud," she said.

Bender said the area about nine miles north of Durango along County Road 250 was the hardest hit, though mudslides also forced road closures in the Vallecito area several miles away.

Heavy equipment crews Wednesday cleared debris from roads and used it to build makeshift dikes and culverts to try to steer future debris away from homes.

By afternoon, the county road was reopened. But Bender said residents were told to remain on alert for possible evacuations, as they have been for most of the summer.

The Durango area remained under a flash flood warning Wednesday, National Weather Service hydrologist Brian Avery said.

He said the rains were remnants of Tropical Storm Fay, which came ashore Saturday in Texas.

"More rain is still coming. It hasn't let up," Avery said. Drier weather could return this weekend, he said.

Bender said residents may see problems for one to three years, until the vegetation has had sufficient time to grow back.

The land will be marked for years beyond then.

"The debris that was scattered Saturday and today will be here for decades," Bender said.

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