ESTES PARK, Colo. (AP) — As people came down from the flooded foothills of the Colorado Rockies, they brought tales of dramatic rescues, heartbreaking loss and neighbors coming together to protect their families and homes. Here are a few of their stories:
Jezebel the cat jumped on a sleeping Jon Johnson, batted his face and yowled until he woke up to find the Big Thompson River spilling into the cottages he and his wife Deyn rented to Estes Park visitors.
They ran from cottage to cottage, knocking on doors and shouting to the sleeping occupants, “Purse! Keys! Medicine! Go!”
The water rose from Deyn Johnson’s shin to her knee in less than a minute. Everybody was safely evacuated before the river swept three of the cottages away and knocked three more on their sides.
She lamented the loss of the Whispering Pines cottages, which they have run since 1993, but praised Jezebel for her swift action.
“We had no warning other than the cat,” Johnson said. “She is going to be treated like a queen for the rest of her life.”
Jerry Grove and Dorothy Scott-Grove’s vacation plans did not include this zip-line tour.
Rescue crews evacuated the Cincinnati couple from their cabin in Glen Haven the only way they could — clinging to a wire line strung up over raging floodwaters.
The couple abandoned their car and most of their luggage, bringing only what they could carry in a backpack.
After the husband and wife crossed the water, rescuers then carried their two golden retrievers — 85 pounds and 60 pounds — across on the zip line.
On Sunday, they were figuring out how to get back to Ohio with no near-term hopes of retrieving their car. One option was to ask their son to drive over from Cincinnati.
“We figure six months to a year to get our car back — and it’s a new car,” Scott-Grove said.
Emma Hardy’s husband woke her up Wednesday night to say a well-loved neighbor had been killed by a mudslide that crushed his Jamestown home. From that point on, the 46-year-old artist and her family were in constant motion, knocking on doors and trying to get people out.
But within hours, a new, impassable river formed and bisected the town.
“It was totally biblical,” Hardy said. “And then it just started getting worse and worse.”
They watched a 10-foot-high culvert smash their deck. By the time the rain slowed, the house was in the water, but, Hardy made sure to point out, “still standing.”
A rental property Hardy owned was completely washed away.
“It’s the river’s house now,” a neighbor observed outside an evacuation drop-off point at a high school.
Like many Jamestown residents, Hardy said she did not begin to process the scale of the disaster until she was flying away from the town.
“When you’re bailing out buckets of water, you’re not really thinking about anything. Now it’s starting to sink in,” she said.
Melinda Villa, of Lander, Wyo., was visiting her uncle’s home in Lyons when floodwaters rushed through the mountain hamlet Wednesday night. Warned by a neighbor, the 28-year-old climbed a ladder with her uncle and her 5-week-old son, seeking refuge on the pitched roof of the apartment complex. Heavy rain and a healthy fear of lightning forced the group back into the home, where they were stranded until a National Guard truck took them to a shelter in nearby Longmont on Friday.
Villa said the home was not severely damaged, but she knew she had to leave when the electricity went out.
“It was like our last resource was gone, and I just lost it,” she said.
Villa’s uncle, Thomas Walter, 50, said he grabbed some blankets, clothes, his computer and — most importantly — his medication before he left. Walter has been diagnosed with cancer, has a blood clot in his brain and suffers from chronic back pain.
“It was surreal,” he said. “It was just unreal, like in a dream. I’m still in a daze.”
Villa, sitting on a bed in the shelter with her son, said Sunday she was offered a ride back to Wyoming, but she can’t leave because her car is still in Lyons.
Ericka Rivera, 15, was getting ready for school Thursday morning when her grandmother told her classes had been canceled.
“I didn’t believe her, so I went outside and I saw that we were surrounded by water in all directions,” she said.
Ericka, who lives in a neighborhood in a low-lying area that she described as a “ditch,” said realizing there was no way out, she tried to swim across the torrent and was in water up to her neck when she saw a large tree floating rapidly toward her.
“Luckily I got out before that tree got to me,” said Ericka, who was evacuated with her family aboard a National Guard truck Thursday night.
The teen said she didn’t get a chance to grab anything before she left and regrets not taking several albums filled with photos of her, brothers and her cousins growing up in Lyons.
“I have nothing right now,” she said, sitting at a table in the shelter Sunday.
Ericka does not know if her home is still standing.
The creek outside Terry Kishiyama’s home just outside Lyons washed away the family’s drinking well and much of their land.
“The river was just getting higher and higher to the point where we thought we were going to die,” he said after walking off a school bus of evacuees. “You couldn’t even talk because it was so loud.”
Kishiyama, his wife, 5-year-old son and 1-year-old daughter hiked to a neighbor’s house on higher ground. They shared a single toothbrush as they waited several days for rescue. Helicopters flew by in the distance, though none came near their location until Saturday morning.
Then, a military helicopter appeared across the river. Kishiyama’s son whipped off his orange T-shirt and waved it over his head.
His wife shouted, “We have babies!”
Kishiyama made eye contact with the pilot. Finally, he knew they would be safe.
For a group of grinning, super-fit men and women, the flooding offered a real-life test of the skills they were learning in a wilderness survival course at a campground.
As they got off a school bus Saturday, the happy campers shouted boasts among themselves about how long they could have lasted in the wild.
“There were rabbits around. There were fish in the pond, water — you just make a charcoal filter and boil it,” said Norwell Therien, who wore camouflage cargo shorts and several earrings and is starting an emergency preparedness company. “We could have been up there for the two weeks they speculated it would take to fix the roads without problem. I would have been cool with it.”
The torrential rain became a lesson in how to deal with washed-out trails.
“With our background in survival, we were perfectly content to just continue our class. We were all taking notes in the rain.” Therien said. “I had already begun scouting out where you might find a rabbit or where the deer might come.”