Neighbors swamped by sinkhole gather for picnic |

Neighbors swamped by sinkhole gather for picnic

Scott N. Miller
Special to the Daily Neighbors stand on a nearly-engulfed bench last June watching flood waters surge into an East Vail neigbhorhood after a culvert burst beneath nearby I-70.

Gordie Rowe knew something was wrong when he saw his garden start to float away.Rowe, who lives on Columbine Way in East Vail, was home on Sunday, June 1 2003 – the day heavy runoff and a clogged culvert conspired to create a giant sinkhole on Interstate 70, then sent a torrent of water down Columbine Drive into the residential neighborhood. Rowe was among several dozen people who gathered Wednesday at a picnic thrown by the town of Vail to commemorate the event. Munching a hot dog where water had raged a year before, Rowe remembered the event with good humor, primarily because only his garden was lost to the flood.Watching the water rise last year, Rowe, an employee with the town’s public works department, quickly drove to the town shop and returned with a backhoe. “When the sandbags started to float away, I knew we had trouble,” he said.One backhoe wasn’t going to do much, though. During a frantic 18-hour period, crews from virtually every town department, the Colorado Department of Transportation, and area towns and fire departments converged on the flood, joining neighbors in trying to keep the water out of their homes.Resident Kenny Vickers wasn’t able to get into the neighborhood until the morning of June 2, after most of the water had been channeled away from homes. “I didn’t know how bad it was until I got back in,” Vickers said. “The water was just inches from coming in my house.”

With the waters raging, neighbors scrambled to protect their homes. “People got so desperate they were using firewood to build berms… that didn’t work,” Rowe said with a laugh.Laughter came easy at the picnic, mainly because the damage has been repaired and most of the insurance claims have been settled. Linda Moore, a neighbor of Rowe’s, had the basement of her home flooded. Her insurance company finally honored her claim when an adjuster learned town crews had attempted to divert the floodwaters.”If the water had just flowed down the street, that would have been an act of God, and they wouldn’t have covered it,” Moore said.Before the culvert let loose, residents in the area weren’t sure what to make of the trickle of water coming down the street.”It was just a trickle at first,” Moore said.

Emergency crews weren’t fully aware of what they were in for, either. Vail firefighter Matt Bona recalled that a woman – Rowe’s wife, BJ – came walking up to the East Vail fire station asking about sandbags.”I thought it was just a normal water leak, and then we got up there and saw Gore Creek running through the tunnel,” he said.Crews worked non-stop to contain and channel the flood waters.”We were just trying to keep water out of the street,” public works employee Gordon Flaherty said. “It was a mess there for a while.”A year later, the neighborhood – and the area around the culvert – are mostly back to normal. “I’ve been very impressed with the recovery,” said Shannon Steiner, an engineer with Kodiak Development Group, the firm that has been monitoring the site for the state. “We’ve been watching all winter, and it’s holding up real well.”

East Vail floodAfter heavy rains further swelled East Vail’s Bighorn Creek, which was already running high due to snowmelt, problems began on I-70 late last May, leading to the sinkhole that swallowed up the interstate, June 1. A run-down of that day’s events:• 10:30 a.m.: State transportation officials get word of water problems on Interstate 70; westbound traffic narrowed to one lane• 1 p.m.: A culvert underneath I-70 collapses, creating a large sinkhole across both westbound lanes• 2 p.m.: Flooding is reported in East VailI-70 was closed in both directions between East Vail and Copper Mountain for nearly four days On June 2, Vail town officials announce at about 5 a.m. that the neighborhood flooding has been contained.• A total of 28 residences were damaged, causing more than $2 million in damage. Individual homes suffer between $1,000 and $20,000 in damage

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