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I grew up in Colorado at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, then lived in Denmark and traveled throughout Europe before coming back to Colorado. I have two adult sons, whom I cherish. I started my writing career as a columnist and investigative reporter and eventually became the first woman editor of two different papers. Along the way, my team and I won numerous state and several national awards, including the National Journalism Award for Public Service. In 2011, I was awarded the Keeper of the Flame Lifetime Achievement Award for Journalism. Now I write historical romance and contemporary romantic suspense.


Seductive Musings

Friday, September 27, 2013

Flash floods, farewells, and First Strike

Pella Crossing/Fall 2012

What a crazy time it’s been since my last blog update. In that span of time I’ve finished and edited a novella — First Strike: The Erotic Prequel to Striking Distance — been through the biggest flood in the state of Colorado’s recorded history, and helped my younger son pack up and head off for eight months as a teaching assistant in France.

Not exactly a dull time.

Let’s start with the floods.

You probably all saw it on television — massive flash floods caused by a period of heavy rain along Colorado’s Front Range. I just happen to live in Boulder County which is next to Larimer County. Those two counties were the worst hit in the state. My home was not flooded, but the destruction around us was unbelievable, truly staggering.

This used to be a parking lot. The structure toward the center is the restroom facility.
This ravine, carved by floodwater, is probably 15 feet deep.

The Rocky Mountains aren't really equipped to deal with lots of rain. We get heavy snows in the high country, but snow melts slowly, feeding the creeks and streams, seeping into the thin, rocky soil, soaking the forest duff. Rain, on the other hand, runs off the soil, taking the path of least resistance downhill. The foothills along the Front Range contain a series of canyons, each with its own stream or river, that funnel runoff from rain and snow out to the plains. When too much water runs into those streams at once, we can get flash floods, where high walls of water rip down from the mountains and tear apart anything in their paths.

The flooding washed down the earthen walls that held Webster Lake, pushing that
water through Heron Lake and out through a farmer's field.
All of the cities along these natural floodplains prepare for potential flash floods. In Boulder, our emergency sirens aren’t for tornadoes; they were put in as a warning system for flash floods. Every city has its own emergency plan for how to deal with a major flood, and floods have occurred in the past.

In July 1976, for example, a rainstorm in the mountains to the west of Loveland sent a torrent of water down the Big Thompson Canyon, which most of the time looks like an unimpressive creek, and killed 143 people, five of whom were never found but were probably buried in rock and mud. The terrible death toll and the devastation spurred all of the cities along the Front Range to prepare for flash floods because all of them have little rivers, creeks and streams capable of doing with the Big Thompson River did.

Sunset Lake, Pella Crossing, the day after the flood
A flash flood in Fort Collins killed five in July 1997 when Spring Creek sent water pouring through the city. Fort Collins went to major effort to do all it could to prevent fatalities.

But no one, not even city planners, could have imagined what happened a couple of weeks ago, when the entire Front Range flooded at once, ever creek, river, stream, and ditch between Fort Collins and Colorado Springs flooding at once. The fact that only seven people died instead of hundreds is proof that the work the cities all did to prepare paid off.

Grandmother Cottonwood, which Benjy and I have said hello to on our walks since he
was a little boy, survived the flood. The trail did not.
Benjamin was still working as a Ranger then. He was told to stay home for a couple of days — which was fine because there wasn’t really a way to get out of our neighborhood. Although we were high and dry, we were surrounded by flood zones. As I posted on Facebook, I have always wanted to live the island life, but I had been expecting palm trees and rum.

When Benjamin went back to work, he helped assist in the rescues, carrying things off helicopters that the National Guard was using to bring people down from the mountains. It was an unforgettable and very sobering experience for him, I’m sure.

Two mangled vehicles lie completely buried in sand and muck.

Seven people lost their lives. Thousands lost their homes. And we all lost some of the infrastructure of our state and our cities with highways washed out, open space areas destroyed, trails washed away. Our most personal lost came in the form of Pella Crossing, which I often referred to on Facebook and Twitter as “the lakes.” It’s a place I love, and it will be a very long time before it’s open to the public again.

I’ve posted a lot of photos of the place here over the years. It’s where I used to go for walks and where I took Benjamin for walks when he was a kid. The top photo shows Pella roughly a year ago. The remaining photos show what it is today. To get some sense of scale, look at the restroom facilities, tossed aside like a doll house. Those doors are big enough for people to walk through.

The St. Vrain carved a new path through Pella and through a farmer’s field.
Cars are buried in the sand. One lake got washed away. The St. Vrain River, which turned into an almost mile-wide torrent, flooded farms, killed livestock, ripped out the trails, washed away one lake and carved a new bed for itself through a farmer’s field adjacent to Pella. There’s a mobile home sitting in the middle of one lake. For those of us who went there every day, the damage is simply unfathomable.

The flood brought sewage from Lyons into the area. It killed fish by washing them out of the lakes and leaving them high and dry. There are dead chickens and geese lying around. It has been hard for all of us who saw these places on a daily basis to grasp what has happened.

Anyone missing a pickup or a mobile home? Here they are. 

But that’s only one tiny piece of it. The water that shredded Pella almost wiped the town of Lyons, only 10 minutes down the road from me, off the map. The highways we drove on this summer when Benjamin and I went to Mud Lake and Nederland and Estes Park were destroyed.

While all this was going on, I was trying to finish First Strike while Chinook helicopters flew overhead. Perhaps because I couldn’t really go anywhere, I succeeded. The novella, which is about 17,000 words long, will be out on October 22. Watch for an excerpt soon!

Benjamin at the airport about to leave for France

And no sooner had I finished editing it — and I really do mean that — it was time to take Benjamin to the airport. He left his Ranger job temporarily to go to France for a once-in-a-lifetime chance to work as a teaching assistant at a public school 35 minutes south of Paris. Saying good-bye to him was hard because I’m going to miss him so much. But I know he’s going to have the time of his life.

So it was writing, writing, writing, rain, floods, editing, driving to the airport to say good-bye to my youngest for eight months.

Can you say whirlwind?

So that’s where I’ve been. I am very grateful that my entire family was spared damage to our health and our property. We all live in either Boulder or Larimer county, right in the heart of the flooding. Not everyone was so lucky, and I feel deep sadness for those who lost their lives, their livelihoods, and their homes.

Right now, with First Strike about to come out (Oct. 22) and Striking Distance right behind it (Nov. 5), I’m turning my attention to a possible Christmas novella and plotting the next full-length I-Team novel. But give me a second to catch my breath here.

Coming next: An excerpt from my sexiest novel yet, First Strike.


Jackie said...

I followed the whole thing as it was happening and yet seeing the flooding laid out this way is still so powerful, and so hard to get the mind around. I'm so sorry for the loss of life and property, and so deeply grateful that you and your family were spared, friend. Now we pray for the rebuilding and the restoration, on every level. xo

Phyl said...

So glad that you, your home, and your family came through this intact. I have a professional acquaintance who lives in Lyons. Her home survived, but with no infrastructure she's living elsewhere for a couple of months. So many had it far worse. It's always heartbreaking to see this. The miracle that there were so few fatalities helps and it will probably be amazing to watch the rebuilding.

librarypat said...

So glad to hear you came through the flooding unharmed and undamaged. I have been concerned about you and Melissa Mayhue. The pictures on her facebook page show just how close to her home the flooding was. Am glad she lives on the top of the hill. The damage your pictures show reveal how very much damage was done and the amount of work that will be needed to put it to rights.
When we left Colorado Springs (RomCon), we stayed at Shelly's Cottages, Lyons. They were lovely cabins down in a valley, right on the river. I was certain they were destroyed, but just checked their Facebook page, and the buildings survived. The land, however, pretty much washed away as did the roads to get there. Most of what we did in that area wouldn't be possible today. The amount of time and money it will take to repair the roads alone is going to be terrible. None of these places will ever be the same again. It is hard to imagine what people are going to do. There aren't enough places to stay, and shelters can't stay open forever (I'm a RC Disaster Vol. and it just isn't possible or a very good option). With winter just a short time off, things are going to be even more difficult. Between the fires and the flooding, Coloradans have taken a hit this year.
Take good care of yourself. Again, so glad you are OK.

Hi, Jackie — Thanks so much for your caring thoughts and comments during this whole time. I knew we had a lot of people pulling for us. :-)

Hi, Phyl — I have a friend in Lyons, too. Her home was spared, and she, her husband and their two sons are fine. They haven't been able to make it home, or at least they hadn't yet when I last spoke with her. Yes, I agree, it's amazing that more people weren't killed. When one remembers that the Big Thompson flood killed almost 200 people and that was just ONE river??? It's really staggering how many lives the city planners saved through careful flood planning.

Hi, LibraryPat — I imagine you must have seen a lot as a RC disaster volunteer. You're right that some of these places will never be the same. The land simply washed away. How does one rebuild a home on land that is lying in a pile of sediment somewhere in the next county?

It's really amazing to see how quickly the cities are clearing away the damage. As bad as things were, I see daily improvement. Some places, like my beloved lakes, are destroyed, however. It's unlikely it will be restored for a very long time — a year, perhaps longer.

Thanks for the good thoughts. We are very grateful not just to be safe but to be in so many people's thoughts.

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