Raw sewage was seeping around Elizabeth Repola’s boots as she walked over a makeshift bridge near her home in Estes Park, Colorado. “It ... smells,” she said, during a phone conversation that was interrupted a half dozen times by the rumble of Black Hawk helicopters and rushing water. It sounded like she was in a war zone. In some ways, she was. “You can’t imagine it,” said Repola, a relative of mine. The flood, which spans 2,500 square miles, has damaged roughly 18,000 homes and left at least six dead.
Colorado, which is so often suffocated by summer wildfires, welcomed the unusually wet August and September with open arms. “Maybe now we’ll have a flood!” a friend had joked to Repola a few weeks earlier. But when a particularly rainy September 11 led to another rain-filled day, and then another, Colorado began to worry.
“It was this rain that never stopped,” Repola told me. “It just kept raining. And raining. And raining.” Inside the house that she built less than a year ago with her husband, Randy, the Deputy Chief of Police at UC Boulder, she watched “a little stream” in their backyard morph into a “raging river.” After receiving a 4 a.m. automated call from reverse 911 instructing her to evacuate, she stayed put. Walking down the road, she watched in horror as a house across the street became immersed in water. Her home, barely saved by a small patch of raised ground, was safe. As rain began to fall again on Sunday, she decided to evacuate—at least temporarily.
When the sunshine finally came out a few days later, exposing newly impassable roads and demolished bridges, she did what mountain people do best: hiked home. Embarking on an “un-evacuation,” she joked. Less than a week later, Repola (and hundreds of others in Colorado) was living without heat, hot water, or electricity. “It’s a ‘no-flush zone’ so ... there’s that” she said. Surviving on Diet Pepsi, cookies, and any other food she can backpack in, she is basically camping in her own home. Many others are too.
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