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CO assesses flood damage

One man is still missing in western Colorado after last week's sweltering temperatures quickly melted the significant mountain snowpack.

BY HEATHER MOYER | HESPERUS, Colo. | May 31, 2005

One man is still missing in western Colorado after last week's sweltering temperatures quickly melted the significant mountain snowpack.

The man disappeared from a campsite in Archuleta County early last week, and officials are combing the area trying to find him. His family says he was camping near a river.

Damage assessment teams are forming in several counties -- including Archuleta -- where swelling rivers invaded homes and businesses.

A mobile home community in the La Plata County town of Hesperus saw flooding after the La Plata River left its banks last week. Some families were forced from their homes due to the high water.

Other affected counties include Costilla, Custer, Dolores, Huerfano, Mineral, Montezuma, and Rio Grande. Several homes along the Dolores River in Montezuma County are facing severe erosion problems from the high water.

Many of the counties are also contending with washed out roads and damaged bridges.

While the weekend weather was calm, the forecast for the remainder of the week does call for rain. The state Division of Emergency Management says it will continue monitoring the high water and damage assessments.

"We're on high alert," said Polly White, spokesperson for the Colorado Division of Emergency Management.

Only one Colorado county has a flood warning still in effect. Temperatures are breaking records across the region, with the National Weather Service office in Grand Junction reporting that the city has seen record highs every day from May 20 to May 23.

According to the National Weather Service Spring 2005 Flood Runoff Report, "Even in the highest elevations, where the brunt of the snowpack exists, daytime temperatures were climbing into the 60s and 70s."

In New Mexico, one emergency manager said many communities were prepared for this spring flooding because they had seen such excessive snowfall in mountains all winter.

Residents in the northern New Mexico town of Questa have been sand-bagging all week along the Cabresto Creek and around Cabresto Lake. The Cabresto Lake, a reservoir used for irrigation, is at capacity and is currently flowing into the spillway.

ďThatís what itís supposed to do, but now Cabresto Creek is above capacity due to that,Ē said Tomas Trujillo, emergency manager for Taos County.

ďItís melting that snow pack so fast that it filled up the reservoir.Ē Trrujillo added that even though the residents were expecting it, this flooding is not a typical spring occurrence.

Trujillo said he's happy to see some of the waterways receding at this point, but the flooding is not over yet. "The Rio Grande River is rising, which is good news for Taos County, but bad news for those downriver."

Flood watches and warnings still stretch across most of Utah as well, and have done so for most of the past week.

Derek Jensen, spokesperson for the Utah Department of Public Safety (UDPS), agreed that many communities anticipated this flooding and prepared for it.

"Right now, for the most part, local communities have been able to handle most of whatís happened," said Jensen. "But we have sent some folks from the state to a couple different places."

UPDS officials are helping communities in Sevier and Uintah counties. Jensen said there are isolated reports of localized residential flooding, but that it's mostly basement flooding.

Officials will continue to monitor water levels across the state. "There are some places where it looks like the water levels have peaked," added Jensen. "This hasn't happened in the entire state, but it's particularly been down south. We will continue to watch and keep our fingers crossed."

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