Digging out from the Bighorn flood | VailDaily.com

Digging out from the Bighorn flood

Veronica Whitney

“The whole thing is a major disaster,” said Cook, who lives along Spruce Way, one of the roads inundated by raging water. “Our whole lower level is flooded. I think there were 8 inches of water there yesterday.”

Cook and her husband, Peter, were among the 220 East Vail residents advised to evacuate Sunday evening. The couple stayed with friends overnight, returning home after emergency crews controlled the flooding.

“They’ll have to replace part of the sheetrock and all the carpet,” Cook said. “The problem is that the insurance will not cover it because they don’t cover floods unless you have flood coverage.”

Cook also was checking on her neighbor’s house. East Vail is an enclave of second-home owners who live elsewhere most of the year.

As emergency crews continued the cleanup in East Vail, Interstate 70 remained closed from Vail to Copper Mountain. Workers of the Colorado Department of Transportation worked on the 22-foot-wide sinkhole on the westbound lane caused by the swollen creek.

The raging water Sunday flooded several roads in East Vail, including Bighorn Road, Columbine Drive and Spruce Way. Crews worked throughout the night to build a berm to divert the water back into Bighorn Creek. Then a backhoe was used to drain another area where water had created a small lake. Town of Vail officials said the flooding was contained at 5 a.m. Monday morning.

“There’s minor water running at this point,” said Greg Hall, director of public works for the town of Vail. “The majority of the water has been diverted into Bighorn Creek.”

The day after

The dozen of paths taken by the raging water and the efforts to contain it left an unusual landscape in parts of East Vail – sandbags piled along the the streets and against doors and driveways, some covered with several inches of debris. Logs were piled against some homes.

“This parking lot and deck usually is covered by tar,” said Joe Caristi as he shoveled at least 4 inches of mud and sand piled up in the backyard of his building along Bighorn Road.

His friend, Matthew Martin, who lives downstairs in the building, was moving into his apartment after his was flooded Sunday.

“I had to climb out of the window not to open the door,” Martin said. “But the water still came in.”

The carpet in Martin’s condo was completely soaked, and the kitchen floor was covered in debris.

John and Nancy McMahan, who live along Columbine Way, returned from vacation, only to stay in a Vail hotel.

“They wouldn’t let us in,” John McMahan said as he cleaned up his yard.

“Look at the waterline on the walls. It’s 2 feet high and there’s at least a foot of debris in the yard.”

“You could have kayaked some of it’

The McMahans home didn’t get flooded inside, however.

“We were glad to be back. It was 100 degrees in Idaho,” Nancy McMahan said. “These things happen to us when we go on vacation. We were in the east coast when Sept. 11 happened. I think we are staying home next time.”

Suzi Gleason’s home down Spruce Way was among those spared by the water.

“We were lucky, the water didn’t hit our basement,” she said. “You could have kayaked some of it. The crews did an amazing job. I was very impressed how they got on it so quickly to save the properties.”

About 60 emergency workers from agencies across the county responded, working to contain the water.

“We had lots of volunteers helping out,” said Barry Smith, emergency manager for Eagle County. “Even 15 inmates from the Eagle County Detention Facility also worked on sandbagging.”

Vail community development director, Russell Forrest at least two homes suffered structural damage, but no initial damage estimate was available, “We looked at some of the private property and there’s less damage than what we thought,” added Vail Mayor Ludwig Kurz.

Washed away

Portions of several roads, however, will have to be rebuilt, Kurz said.

In fact, parts of Columbine Drive and Spruce Way don’t exist anymore. Instead, there are big holes where the erosion chewed up the ground.

“We are looking at rebuilding parts of Columbine Drive and Spruce Way and doing repairs on Bighorn Road and lower Columbine Drive,” said Greg Hall, Vail’s public works director.

Hall said workers used about 100 tons of sand to protect eroded slopes and to build retaining walls.

Fred Hasler of the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District said so far there have been no sewage problems because of the floods.

“We will be on the clock 24 hours a day to check on the creek,” Hall said.

In the meantime, Tom Fowler, a second-home owner from Denver, said he is planning a trip to Vail today to assess the damage to his duplex along Columbine Drive.

“I think we’re lucky because our place sits higher up,” said Fowler, who called the Vail Daily to ask about the flood. “I just want to know if the house is still there.”

In spite of the damage to the streets and homes, Cook said the story she’d like to tell is about the community spirit in Vail.

“It was incredible how everybody came out to save the streets,” she said. “Lots of young kids were shoveling and piling sandbags instead of rafting on their day off.”

Flood aftermath

– During a tour of East Vail’s Bighorn neighborhood Monday, Vail officials identified 125 homes that were in the path of Sunday’s flood.

– Those residences will be receiving information from the town about various flood-related cleanup techniques. The affected property owners also are being asked to inspect their homes for damage, especially those who don’t live in Vail full-time.

– Property damage to residences so far appears to be minimal, with basement flooding reported in some homes, town officials said.

Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at vwhitney@vaildaily.com.

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