That Sinking Feeling
It’s shockingly light out when I wake up. The sun hasn’t appeared, but compared to the dark heavy rain of the last 48 hours, it seems an almost pristine calm has settled in.
Blinking away the sleep in my eyes and tossing coffee on to brew, I glance out the window. The bike path next to Bear Creek behind our house is visible once more. A woman walks along pushing a stroller, her rain coat seemingly dry. I’m almost disappointed.
My roommates and I stepped out along the creek shortly before midnight last night. Our yard sits a solid 6-8 feet above the level of the bike path and 10-12 above the normal level of the creek (which I have hopped across many a time). In the darkness, with headlamps and flashlights, the creek was 20 feet across and running only a foot below the plane of our yard. When my camera ran out of power, I excitedly swore I’d return in daylight, hoping the water would still be running high.
Bear Creek is still flush and flowing furiously (shown below to the right after the jump, photo by Laurie yesterday) . As I wander down to the bike path, the underpasses are closed and the water is barely passing under the bridges. Mud rolls in waves across the pavement, dappled with deep footprints and bike tread. Families congregate at vantage points to see the water flow.
In all, my neighborhood is dirty and wet, but virtually unmarred by the flooding.
As I cross Baseline to the South, I see the first evidence of damage. Congregation Har Hashem‘s parking lot is a deep mud pool. Two vans with pumps and generators are pulled up to doors, slowly removing whatever flooding got inside. A half dozen men wander back and forth, waiting impatiently. Rather than bother them, I turn back across Baseline to wander the Bear Creek Greenway Trail.
It’s clear that the water rose well above where I’m walking. The vegetation about calf level has been swept over, combed downstream. Above my knee, the vegetation stands tall. I have difficulty maintaining my footing in the shifting mud. A couple sits on a park bench that was submerged last night. We smile and nod, briefly exchange expressions of concern before realizing we both survived the flood without incident and I move on.
The other side of the creek holds a dirt path worn by the many people who live back there. Gates from backyards offer a short trail running or mountain biking access with some slightly more difficult rock hopping at one end. The easy entry no longer exists. Gone are the 300-500 lb stones that held a dirt wall together. Gone is the path leading up. Left in their place is a sheer dirt cliff, a handful of roots now protruding.
At home, my Facebook and Google+ streams are filled with reports from friends about their status. “So.. leaving Boulder today might have been a mistake…” reads one from a former roommate, “Since I can’t get back in.” “As of Friday afternoon we are 1 of 6 separate “islands” in Lyons,” says another friend. Josh, who lives on a valley ranch in Lyons, reports, “I think we are looking at about 15 acres of complete devastation just right around the house.” I have dozens of friends who seem to be reaching out and offering places to stay or hands to assist; far fewer are posting things like, “My apt is not-habitable right now,” “I should have kept a running total of gallons of water vacuumed. I think it’s between 480 and 500,” “2 sump pumps running full blast all morning… garden level water is mostly swept into crawl space, where pumps are pumping,” “There are trout dead on the sidewalks, blocks from any creeks,” or “Looking for a Truck/large van and a garage or place to move stuff…”
Blue skies are peeking out as I hop on my bike and head toward Tyler’s place. After crossing Baseline once more, I can see the juxtaposition of the two halves. Unlike my neighborhood, this one is devastated. Fences have been swept over by water. Gravel and rocks that rested beautifully in planter beds are now strewn across the sidewalks and roads. A woman crouches in quickly running water picking rocks out of the gutter so the water can drain faster. Random crap, from shoes to books to shirts, are splayed across the common areas, lost in the recent deluge. Families are wandering around with looks of shock on their faces. Piles of drying or sopping clothes are appearing on lawns. The underground parking garage of a retirement community is now an underwater parking garage. A pair of old women sit on a bench by the pond, the water flooding the wide grassy area and coming nearly to their feet.
The parking lot of Tyler’s complex is full of trucks and vans. Carpet cleaners pepper the entire neighborhood, pumps and generators humming. A pair of young men are spraying down and washing wooden furniture by the pool. Walking down the outdoor hallway toward unit, I glance into the laundry room. Mud cakes the floor. The dryers are tilted at forty-five degree angles, like dominoes or books that just couldn’t quite stand up. My feet squish with each step.
Tyler lives in a basement apartment not half a mile from my house. He’s one of my friends whom the flooding actually hit. His apartment was submerged in approximately three and half feet of water. The line of mud where the water stopped is just below his kitchen counters. You can follow it all the way around his house. His girlfriend Lindsay was stuck in Westminster overnight and Tyler and several friends have descended on his apartment to clean house.
“This dresser was floating when we got here,” he tells me as we pull the encumbered clothes out sodden wood drawers. “The fridge was like this,” he says, holding his arm out and letting me visualize the huge black monstrosity tipped against the counters opposite its nook.
A footbridge in Lyons washes out.
Pools appear beneath our feet as we walk across the carpets. Most of the salvageable bigger items have already been pulled outside in the rocky yard the complex boasts. We use a pair of pliers to turn on an outside spigot and begin spraying things down. Inside, we peruse every corner the apartment trying to find what’s still dry and what’s wet. “I think these can be rinsed and salvaged,” I say.
A woman who works for the complex comes around to announce that pizza, coffee, cookies, and other things are available at a neighboring complex’s pool house. She says deposits will be refunded and rent pro-rated and lease nullified. She recommends bleaching everything, “because a lot of that flood water was sewage.” I start having second thoughts about what’s salvageable. “It could be 4-6 months before repairs are finished here,” she tells Tyler. An odd smile sits beneath glazed eyes, as if she’s forcing herself not to lose it.
After three hours, my fingers are wrinkling like I’ve been in the bath too long. My pants and shirt feel damp from the humidity and I smell foul. There are mud streaks and spots dotting my clothes just from lifting, rinsing and packing. Everything of import is out of the apartment, although much of the wet stuff is just outside the back porch area. Tyler’s plan is to spend a few days in Louisville with a friend before finding a new place. Three SUVs are full of his stuff, though the amount worth keeping is still unclear.
Many major roads around Boulder are still closed, though 36, our primary thoroughfare, has reopened. The part of 36 heading North had been washed out yesterday and Lyons is divided by water, entire neighborhoods locked down. My friend Hayley, whose family lives in the Thompson Canyon area near Loveland, posted, “URGENT: Does anyone know who has a ham radio in Loveland, apparently that is the only way people can communicate with ANYONE in Thompson Canyon….”
As I bike home, families have moved outside. The warm sun is shining brightly enough that people are hanging things up to dry. It feels muggy, smells like fresh mulch and wet dog, and I can still hear running water no matter where I am. Crossing back over baseline, I reenter my creek-side wonderland. A little girl walks through the sun with her mother, an open umbrella held tightly over her head as if the heavens might reopen at any minute. Even more people are wandering the bike path, admiring nature’s destructive glory. I can’t help but think of the destruction and confusion only a half-mile away. The tourists by the creek are oblivious to it.
Boulder is hardly the site of Hurricane Sandy or Katrina. It hasn’t been swept from the map like Greensburg, Kansas. Many of my friends have been posting videos and photos full of incredulous laughter, of joggers running through water, students tubing on bike paths, kids drinking and partying like it’s the end of the world. Plenty of neighborhoods and houses are standing strong and dry.
Within a week, most of the obvious signs of the flood will be gone: The bike paths will be cleaned up, the schools reopened; the mud splatters on my shirt and jeans will be laundered; the waters will recede back to normalcy. A few things will still stand out: dumpsters will be overflowing with detritus and flotsam; homes and apartments will have legions of renovators and repairmen sloshing through their depths; trees and plants torn but not torn down will stand as testament to the waters that passed.
I feel incredibly lucky to only experience the madness vicariously through friends. I was lucky to be spared flooding, to have laughed in the face of worry and fear and gotten away with it. When I woke up this morning, it was with excited anticipation. That’s now been replaced with weariness, empathy, and understanding.
Despite the sun and warmth, the weather report calls for two more days of rain. While I’m confident the worst is over and all will be fine, I fully expect the repercussion of the flood to echo for weeks if not longer.
For more amazing pictures from Boulder, check these out.