Colorado assesses damage after flooding

Preliminary assessments made of $40 million in damages to infrastructure

September 18, 2013

The U.S. Department of Transportation made $30 million in flood relief available to rain-soaked Colorado on Wednesday to help pay for repairs of roads and bridges damaged or destroyed in historic floods.

A preliminary assessment of the state’s transportation infrastructure shows damage of $40 million to roads and $112 million to bridges, the agency said in a statement.

The U.S. Department of Transportation last week made available $5 million for repair work in Colorado, and the money made available on Wednesday was in addition to that smaller sum.

The overall flood zone has since grown to encompass 17 Colorado counties, including the state’s biggest urban centers, across a region about the size of Delaware.

Experts in natural disasters warn against any fast assessments of damage resulting from the massive flooding.

“Waters subside at different intervals,” said Bob Holmes, a national flood-hazard specialist for the U.S. Geological Survey. “There’s no predictable time frame for when floods will no longer be impacting these communities.”

Holmes said Coloradans, faced with flooding of this scale, should expect additional disasters that can come with floods.

“Mudslides and sinkholes are likely in mountainous terrain,” Holmes said. “That’s why assessing the situation thoroughly is needed before things like roads are opened.”

Some roads probably will remain closed for weeks, if not months, because of extensive damage to them, including Dillon Road in Broomfield and Colorado 7, a portion of which was washed away by the St. Vrain River near Lyons.

Colorado flooding has not only overwhelmed roads and homes, but also the oil and gas infrastructure stationed in one of the most densely drilled areas in the U.S. Oil companies have shut down much of their operations in Weld County due to flooding. Nearby locals say an unknown amount of chemicals has leaked out and possibly contaminated waters, mixing fracking fluids and oil along with sewage, gasoline, and agriculture pesticides.

“You have 100, if not thousands, of wells underwater right now and we have no idea what those wells are leaking” East Boulder County United spokesman Cliff Willmeng said Monday. “It’s very clear they are leaking into the floodwaters though.”

No one, from oil companies to regulators, seems to know the exact extent of the damage yet as they survey the damage. But Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources Mike King told the Denver Post that, “The scale is unprecedented.”

Gov. John Hickenlooper on Friday signed an executive order that authorizes $6 million from the state’s general fund to go to 14 counties.

Micki Trost, public information officer for the state Office of Emergency Management, said the agency is working with local officials.

The sheer destruction, Trost said, makes it difficult for crews to get into evacuated areas.

President Barack Obama, who has approved federal disaster assistance, asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate with Colorado officials.

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