University of Northern Colorado campus community members who were directly affected by unprecedented flooding in the state share their stories.
Sociologist Combines Experience as Evacuee with Expertise to Launch Study
Jeff Houser, his wife and their adopted Newfoundland dog were among the last group to be evacuated by a Chinook helicopter from their home in Glen Haven.
The associate professor of Sociology has been told that it will be at least a year until they can return to their home overlooking the floodplain in the idyllic mountain town northeast of Estes Park.
Until then, he's residing in campus housing.
Houser is combining his experience as an evacuee with his research interests as director of UNC's Social Research Lab. He's seeking grant funding for a student-involved project to conduct a needs' assessment of residents who were displaced by the floods.
"We want to find out what can be done better next time around and use this as a learning experience," says Houser, who intends to share the results with city governments and organizations that responded.
Media Capture Images of Staff Member's Home
Images and video of Kim Fenner's house and her dogs being rescued in a canoe by her roommate were beamed for the world to see.
Live aerial coverage captured her home, located between Greeley and Kersey and between the South Platte and Poudre rivers, as the floodwaters breached while Fenner was working the job she's held for five years as an advisor in UNC's Academic Support and Advising.
The photos of her blue house with the red door and her Toyota Forerunner submerged out front would later run prominently in newspapers.
Fenner and her husband are now focused on repairing the home where they've lived for 1-½ years. They've already ripped out the ruined flooring and insulation and replaced drywall.
"Everyone has been so supportive and generous," Kim says of her co-workers and CrossFit gym friends. "They've helped make the process so much easier. It's so much less stressful having people come alongside to volunteer their time and money.
Student, Father Lose Everything in Flood
UNC junior Iliana Palacios was alone in the Evans mobile home she shared with her father when rapidly rising water from the South Platte River forced her to evacuate with 10 minutes' notice. She left with the clothes she was wearing, her cell phone and the backpack she used for school.
Not knowing what else to do, she took a scheduled exam in an afternoon class. It was hard to focus, she said, not knowing what she would return to. The answer, it turned out, was nothing. Their home was uninhabitable and everything in it was destroyed.
Palacios, who was interviewed for a New York Times story about the flood, is living with family members in the area while she and her father continue the recovery process: getting new checks at their bank, applying for replacement birth certificates and Social Security cards, seeing what family photos might still be on their cell phones and a myriad other details.
"We didn't lose our lives like some people did, but we did lose everything in our lives," said Palacios. "We only lost objects; they can be replaced."
Staff Member, Family Hope to Be Back in Home in January
UNC Writing Center Director Crystal Brothe and her family also were forced from their home by the South Platte. The 2,700-square-foot house they'd lived in for 22 years is adjacent to Palacios' neighborhood.
"We watched cars and trailers float away; it was surreal," said Brothe, who was interviewed for ABC's World News with Diane Sawyer and the Weather Channel's Wake up with Al (Roker).
Brothe and her husband and two daughters stayed in a shelter, a motel, with family and then UNC student housing in the aftermath of the flood. Four days after evacuating, they braved waist-deep water to rescue one of their cats that they couldn't find when they left.
Like Palacios, everything in the Brothe's house was destroyed by the waist-deep water and the thick layer of mud it left behind. But they consider themselves lucky: the house is structurally sound and they started gutting the interior as soon as the water receded. They hope to be back in it by January.
Colorado Flood Fast Facts
- 5,958 people evacuated (2,256 by air)
- 8 people died (including, tragically, graduate Gerald "Gerry" Boland, BA-59, of Lyons; Boland, 80, taught in Lyons for 31 years and coached basketball there for 23 years)
- At least 1,882 homes destroyed
- More than $2 billion in property damage
- 200 miles of roads damaged
- $475 million total cost of permanent repairs on highways
- 50 bridges damaged
- 24 counties affected
Source: Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management
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