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Residents return home following CO flooding

BY GEORGE PIPER | LA JUNTA, CO | May 12, 1999

LA JUNTA, CO (May 12, 1999) -- Hundreds of residents along the Arkansas

River in this southeast Colorado town are salvaging what they can after

recent floods seriously damaged more than 250 homes.

Heavy rains in northern Colorado on April 30 fueled the Arkansas River's

path southward, eventually spilling over or busting through dikes at La

Junta and unincorporated North La Junta. In some areas, it took four days

for the water to recede enough for homeowners to visit waterlogged

properties and begin cleaning up. Water levels around homes ranged anywhere

from a few inches up to six feet.

"The water went in and some of it just stayed there for a while," said Gary

Haddock, the Church World Service disaster resource consultant for Colorado.

Several of the homes affected were low-income households, Haddock added.

He plans a trip to La Junta on Wednesday to explore interfaith opportunities

for flood recovery.

Locally, the community raised $95,000 for flood relief, and Haddock

expressed hope that some of that money could be used if an interfaith group

established a recovery effort.

The American Red Cross sheltered some 500 people in the first two nights

after the flood, reported Scott Petty, executive director for the

organization's Southeast Colorado chapter. A service center is currently

open, where personnel are distributing cleanup kits and have compiled about

200 cases of people needing help, Petty added.

According to preliminary damage estimates, as many as 150 homes were

destroyed and 84 others incurred major damage. Although the Arkansas River

is back within its banks, the flood danger isn't over yet.

"The river's still really high, and it's got some of the local officials

concerned," Petty said. "If we get any rain upstream, it could flood all

over again."

La Junta, which bore the brunt of heavy flooding in the 1921, 1955 and 1965,

wasn't alone in its flooding problems.

On April 30, rain totals up to 12-inches pushed creeks from its banks in

Fort Collins and Loveland in north central Colorado. Basements flooded in

Fort Collins, while rising water forced 60 people from their homes in

Loveland.

The same day, the communities of Manitou Springs and Palmer Lake near

Colorado Springs sustained tens of thousands of dollars in damage -- mainly to

infrastructure -- after five inches of rains sent creeks and rivers

overflowing.

Otero County hired a coordinator to handle information about disaster relief

programs and other flood-related information. The county also plans

door-to-door visits in the flooded areas to gauge survivors' needs. Federal

Emergency Management Agency officials arrived last week to calculate flood

damage before determining if assistance will be available for La Junta.

Colorado Gov. Bill Owens already declared a disaster emergency and sent

National Guard units to aid cleanup efforts.


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