LYONS, Colo. — The cars that normally clog Main Street in Lyons on the way to Rocky Mountain National Park have been replaced by military supply trucks. Shop owners in Estes Park hurriedly cleared their wares in fear that the Big Thompson River will rise again. A plywood sign encouraged residents mucking out their homes to “Hang in there.”
Days of rain and floods have transformed the outdoorsy mountain communities in Colorado's Rocky Mountain foothills from a paradise into a disaster area with little in the way of supplies or services — and more rain falling Sunday.
The string of communities from Boulder to Estes Park, the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park, is a base for backpackers and nature lovers where blue-collar and yuppie sensibilities exist side by side. Now, roadways have crumbled, scenic bridges are destroyed, the site of the bluegrass festival is washed out and most shops are closed.
Estes Park town administrator Frank Lancaster said visitors who would normally flock there during the golden September days should stay away for at least a month, but it could take a year or longer for many of the mountain roadways to be repaired.
Meanwhile, people were still trapped, the nearby hamlet of Glen Haven has been “destroyed” and the continuing rain threatened a new round of flooding, he said.
The residents who remained or began trickling back were left to watch out for one another. Restaurateurs and grocers in Lyons were distributing food to their neighbors as others arrived in groups carrying supplies.
Scott Martin, 25, drove the half-hour from Boulder Saturday to deliver drinking water and gasoline to a friend's parents. He fled Lyons amid a torrential downpour on Wednesday night after the mountain stream that cuts through town gushed into his basement.
The surging waters have been deadly, with four people confirmed dead and two more missing and presumed dead after their homes were swept away.
Some 1,500 homes have been destroyed and about 17,500 have been damaged, according to an initial estimate released by the Colorado Office of Emergency Management.
In addition, 11,700 people left their homes, and a total of 1,253 people have not been heard from, state emergency officials said.
With phone service being restored to some of the areas over the weekend, officials hoped that number would drop as they contacted more stranded people.
As many as 1,000 people in Larimer County were awaiting rescue Sunday, but airlifts were grounded because of the rain, said Shane Del Grosso, a Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team commander.
Hundreds more people are unaccounted for to the south in Boulder County and other flood-affected areas.
In Estes Park, some 20 miles from Lyons, hundreds of homes and cabins were empty. High water still covered several low-lying streets. Where the river had receded, it had left behind up to a foot of mud.
Supplies of gas and groceries had been running low until Route 7 was recently reopened. People lined up Sunday at the one gas station where a tanker had arrived.
Boulder remained a refuge for evacuees from the more isolated mountain towns. Meanwhile, water continued to back up in some parts of town and a water treatment plant remained down Sunday.
But the town was bouncing back. Libraries and recreation centers have reopened. Students are again spilling out of cutesy restaurants on Pearl Street, and classes at the University of Colorado are expected to resume today.
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