Photo from the ImaGeo blog, Credit: Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

Whether or not you experienced the Colorado floods, this essay, Dispatch from Twiggly Island,  published in High Country News, is worth a full read…it was nearly impossible to cut any of it. Public radio reporter Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock describes how the people of Lyons came together, and lived together to survive last month’s floods as the St. Vrain overtook homes, roads, cars and more:

…The rivers were no longer civilized, but the people of Lyons were. When the South St. Vrain went ballistic at 2 a.m., our neighbor knocked to tell us that people were evacuating. “I couldn’t leave without you guys,” he said. He was new to the neighborhood, and I’d only met him twice. Within minutes, our phone was ringing with offers of places to stay. We scrambled four blocks uphill to the house of our friends Dave and Alison, who were smart enough to build on high ground. (Although their emergency preparedness kit included just one bottle of white wine. Well, nobody’s perfect.)

That first night felt like a pajama party. Nine-year-old Cassidy busted out a bowl of Life cereal while her brother, Jaiden, hopped around in front of the television wearing a black robe dotted with skulls. Images of rising creeks and torrential rain in other Colorado counties flashed across the screen; over footage of university students jumping and playing in Boulder Creek, the newscaster dryly intoned, “This behavior is not advisable.” We finally went back to bed at 4 a.m., believing the world would be normal again in the morning. Instead, we woke to find that the St. Vrain had rearranged our town, marooning us on six isolated islands.

We called ours “Twiggley Island,” after the picture book Miss Twiggley’s Tree, by Dorothea Warren Fox. It’s about a woman who lives in a tree. Everyone thinks she’s odd until there’s a flood; then the whole town takes refuge in her tree house, and she becomes a hero. Miss Twiggley’s Tree became required reading, as we lost power and more and more people sought refuge with us. One neighbor arrived wearing only a muumuu, unable to retrieve any other clothes. Her 2-year-old cat, Ruby, freaked out and refused to eat or drink; she had to have water dripped into her mouth every hour. Laurie had lived in Lyons for almost 40 years and never seen anything like this. “I had a brand-new shower that I was going to install in my outbuilding. It was sitting on the porch and it just floated away.”

Another neighbor showed up with a cooler of bottled milk, delivered from the Longmont Dairy just two days earlier. The situation wasn’t critical, we decided, until the half-and-half ran out.

Isolated and out of touch on Twiggley Island, we didn’t know that many of our friends and neighbors were struggling just to survive. We didn’t know that a dear friend’s father had died in the flood. We didn’t know that many of us had already lost our homes for good. All we knew was that we needed to conserve water and save food before it spoiled. We needed to stockpile camping gear, headlamps, and water purifiers. Someone had half a cow that had to be eaten before it went bad; Twiggley Islanders adhered to the Paleo diet. We planned to stick it out together as long as necessary. But after three days, everyone was told to leave. We were a liability to rescue efforts higher up the canyon, and with our water treatment plant damaged, E-coli or other health risks posed a real possibility.

As I watched my Lyons friends and neighbors evacuate Twiggley Island — one car at a time, over the only usable bridge — I felt incapable of describing what I was seeing. I had always clung to words, using them like life rafts to float around the bends. But that metaphor no longer worked for me…

Curious of how things were looking during the flood? Check out this blog post, in which reporter Tom Yulsman is in touch with Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock during the flood– you’ll see a slightly different perspective, including photos. From Yulsman’s post:

At about 2 a.m. I saw a Tweet from my good friend Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock, who lives in Lyons, Colorado, saying that she was being evacuated from her home because of flooding. Then, nothing.

Until a few minutes ago, when she posted 25 photos to Facebook showing what the “biblical”-scale rainfall here in the Denver-Boulder area (as the National Weather Service describes it) has done to her town at the foot of the mountains. She reports that she is safe, but that she and her family are totally cut off in the town — they cannot get out.

From Facebook: “Tom, we are in a good spot and totally isolated. No way in or out.”

She reports that her home is getting hit in the front by North Saint Vrain Creek, and from the back by South Saint Vrain Creek. “We can’t get to it.”

This area has received about 9 inches of rain in 18 hours, compared to the average for the entire month of September of 1.68 inches. Flooding is widespread, and minutes ago I heard reports from the University of Colorado that a “wall of water” was rampaging down Boulder Canyon. Not sure what is happening with that yet. Suffice it to say, this is bad.

Bonnie-Sue has given me permission to share her pictures here. All of them were taken in Lyons. So far, I have seen no other on-scene images of what’s happening there.

Do you have a story from the floods that you’d like to share? Comment below!

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9 thoughts on “Surviving Lyons After the Colorado Floods

  1. I enjoyed reading this post and it was interesting hearing a different perspective of this experience. Living in Boulder, I was one of the many kids carelessly engaging in water sports. Looking back on this, I realize how selfish I was being and what the consequences may have been if something bad had happened. As Lyons starts to rebuild are there any recommendations that you would have to city planners and developers? Perhaps others will take a page out of Miss Twiggley’s Tree and reestablish themselves on higher ground?

  2. This post was intriguing, given that I livei n Boulder and the flood we saw and experienced didn’t necessarily put the town on six different isolated islands. Fortunately the flooding hadn’t reached my home, but my friend ended up living with us for a month and a half, while his house was being renovated due to the 24 inches of water that amounted. Although FEMA helped out a lot, is there anything the town is doing to help prevent this problem happening again? Obviously it’s impossible to completely stop a natural disaster, but has the city discussed having more elevated shelters just in case this problem would happen again? Also, it’s great to see the camaraderie from your neighbor and other citizens of the town, was FEMA a large help as well in terms of helping recover damages and things?

  3. Good to hear perspectives on this flood. I feel quite fortunate I was not effected hardly at all by the flood living in Boulder, and in a high – lying house. After the floods left the front edge of the headlines, it is easy to forget how deep some of the damage went. When I hear about FEMA aid being handed out and national guard troops still deployed, I have to check myself when I think “tsk, just some flooded basements.” Unfortunately, as much as support has come flowing from the community around the front range, each person has to deal with their own situation at the end of the day. Lives were disrupted, some totally shattered, and I wish everyone the best who is still struggling to pull their lives back together.

  4. This is a great post, showing just how strong a community can be when disaster strikes. It is always refreshing to hear about people who make the best of a bad situation, rather than who’s to blame and who can they sue? Thank heavens you and your neighbors were (at least somewhat) prepared for an emergency. Glad you were all safe and able to take care of one another. I thought my flooded basement was as bad as it could get at the time, until I turned on the news. Good luck with rebuilding and the slow process of getting your lives back to normal.

  5. When the storm first hit I was in the Norlin Library at the University of Colorado. I was looking at the weather radar and decided to have a look outside to see how bad the storm really was.It was bad. The water was collecting at the base of the stairs, and I decided it was time to leave. NOW. I took the bus over to the Sprouts on Baseline. By the time I had arrived there was a river flowing on Broadway. My friend was kind enough to pick me up and offer me a ride home. I live on Foothills and Baseline. I had no idea how high the water has risen in that area. Needless to say I got home okay, but sadly my friends car did not make it, as well as many of my neighbors homes. It was a truly scary experience. Looking back now it was hard to comprehend the amount of damage that can be done by a natural disaster in such a small amount of time. This post really touched my heart. I’m glad that you made it out okay and I am truly sorry for your loss. How has FEMA helped you with the recovery efforts? How is the city assisting in the recovery and restoration efforts for Lyons? I have seen a bit on the news, but I would like to have information. Wish you the best in your rebuilding, and hope to come and visit Lyons soon. Take care

  6. This was an excellent post. I was also involved in the flooding in the Boulder area, and a couple of friends lost their homes. How is FEMA assisting you in the situation? There have been some controversies that my friends have had with FEMA and their policies. Has the city changed any of the regulations for rebuilding permits? Do you think changes should be implemented to the waste water treatment plant to ensure that contamination does not occur again? I think the state and city councils should be discussing these issues, as this could happen again. I can not wait to visit Lyons soon. The progress the town has made in the past month is astonishing. It’s amazing what can happen in the blink of an eye. I’m truly sorry for your loss. I hope that the rebuild goes well and wish you the best.

  7. What a completely eye-opening post. As a student living in Boulder, I knew several people that had severe flood damage to their homes, however I did not personally know anyone that was forced to evacuate. This account by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock really shows how tragic this event was for the people of Lyons, however shows how good things can come from bad events. I think that is something that so many people walked away from after these devastating floods – a renewed sense of community. I can’t help but feel that we are all a stronger community after such events. How are recovery efforts progressing in Lyons? Has FEMA aid become avaliable yet for rebuilding? Wishing you all the best.

  8. This is a very interesting and important story for people to read. Not to set myself apart from many of the other students at CU Boulder I was enjoying the weather as it was a little exciting. I come from a place that this type of stuff just does not happen so to me it was more of a thrill than anything to be truly worried about. But reading through this article and understanding what other people had to go through to just make it out does make me think back on the true nature of what happened. I know most recovery efforts were taking longer than expected for people in the Lyons and Jamestown areas. I am just glad that FEMA was able to respond in a decently quick time along with the National Guard to get as many of the people help that they could. I am hoping that while this was a bad experience for many people that certain ideas can be learned. This is the first time anyone that I know of has seen this happen to our little area, but taking it in I hope we rebuild in a manner that is more durable to deal with this type of disaster in the future.

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