By LaVern Johnson
Several people attended the Flood Commemoration event at the Lyons Redstone Museum on Wednesday evening, September 12, in memory of the fifth anniversary of the 2013 flood. They viewed the updated Flood of 2013, Disaster to Recovery display, listened to attendees' flood stories, and watched the video Understanding the Fundamentals Colorado’s Epic Flood of 2013, which focused on Lyons. It was hard listening to the trauma that each one went through starting on September 11, 2013 five years ago.
Others in attendance at the museum, but who did not live here during the flood and moved here afterwards and were interested in knowing about the flood and what it had taken for the town to recover. They all wished those flooded could come back; maybe there is hope.
JERRY JOHNSON - Coming home from working at Bull Durham Casino in Black Hawk, he got to the Airport Road traffic light on Highway 93, and could go no further, but no one knew why. They waited several hours; finally, a patrolman came and told them the trouble, “flood water.” He had to drive to Interstate 25, and across Highway 66,
getting into Lyons at 12:30 a.m. When the evacuation message sounded. They (Jerry, LaVern, and neighbor, Susan Bingle), drove around town to see if they could help. They went to the Community Church, and then Lyons Elementary School, where they got the door open, but did not know where the lights were. Jerry turned them on, and Mr. Boland was standing by the door, and said “I did not remember where the switches were; it has been 30 years!” Boland then left, went to his home up the North St. Vrain looking for his wife Cheron, who was stuck in the parking lot of The Outlaw Saloon. Jerry was probably the last one to see Boland alive. Boland, who had gone home and out to the shed to get his life preserver, was swept away by the flood. They found his red pickup truck the next day, and his body the following Thursday.
LARRY COHAN - Larry did not own any property, but was renting at the north end of town; he kept checking on his sister’s (Priscilla) property and her cats in the confluence area the night of the flood. Her house was damaged during the flood. When the town was evacuated he had to go to the LifeBridge Church and then the YMCA in Boulder. As a renter he was not eligible for living assistance and had to move often those two months the town was closed. Larry, an artist, has created paintings, prints, and t-shirts commemorating the flood. The proceeds from their sale go to the non-profit he established, lyonsfloodmemorial.org, with the aim of putting a Flood Memorial somewhere in town.
MAX LANG - Max, along with six other Lyons graduates, had just started college in Durango when they heard news of the flood. Gathered in the school cafeteria they spent their day trying to contact family and friends in and around Lyons to see if they were safe. The first trip home in November was a difficult and anxious time, not knowing what they would find, wondering how much had changed and what it would look like.
BAIBA LENNARD - Her family lives up Blue Mountain Road and woke to the emergency alarms warning to move to higher ground. In the dark, they walked down the hill toward the Apple Valley Bridge. They were unnerved by the roar of the North St. Vrain River. At the bridge they shined flashlights to find that the churning water was a few feet from the underside of the bridge. A worker placing traffic cones at the intersection of CR71 & Apple Valley Road warned that the highway up the canyon was flooding and no one should pass. At 5:55 a.m., a friend, Clark, called the house to say that he had just had a really scary drive into town. Water was flowing down the hills and was dangerously high on the road in front of the River Church. He reported that the fire department could not go up the canyon. He asked the Lennards to move some cones to block access going into town, too. At this point it was getting light; people were gathering. They could see debris, a propane tank, trees, etc., raging down the widening river, hitting the bottom of the bridge. The water level was getting higher, flooding and eroding the highway in both directions and stranding residents on the north side of town who were wondering what was happening downriver in town.
LAVERN JOHNSON - It was, and had been raining hard for two days. On Wednesday, September11, LaVern Johnson went to the School Board meeting to thank them for the use of the Lyons Elementary School gym for the summer square dances for the previous 55 years. After which she drove to the Hix ‘n Chix Square Dance at the Longmont Senior Center but decided at 9:30 to go home due to the heavy rain. At 12:30 a.m., she received evacuation call from Victoria Simonsen to the townspeople “Flood, Flood, get out; go to higher ground.” LaVern then went to Lyons Elementary School gym where her son Jerry turned on the lights. “It was the last we saw of Gerald Boland, our one victim of the 2013 flood. Very sad.” The fact that all of Lyons had to leave town made it hard for many to find a place to live (although a few stayed behind). People were put up by relatives, friends, or stayed at LifeBridge Church, other churches, motels, etc.. There were no utilities in Lyons for two months. It was good to be back home about November 10.
MARTIN SOOSLOFF lived in a cozy cabin, he called the “Secret Cabin” up the North St. Vrain. As the water rose and began creeping ever closer he started packing up some of his belongings and wading through water to put them in his truck. He was only able to locate one of the two cats in the house by the time he had to leave. Not knowing what to do and sitting in his truck, someone from the fire department drove up and told him to head into town. Returning days later he found the missing cat. The cabin was heavily damaged and no longer habitable. He penned his poem “Stream-lined Gypsy” in response to the events of that night. He was glad his two sons were in Longmont that night.
As you know, five years ago there was a major flood in Lyons. We had to leave our home in hip deep water and ended up at the Lyons elementary school for shelter. For the first 48 hours the community, those who were not directly hit with the flood began bringing in clothing, baskets of socks, food and over the counter medication. With all the negative there was SO much positive and love being given out. We were SO grateful for the Lyons community support and from the bottom of our hearts, we thank each and every one of you! By choice we left Lyons but have 42 years of great memories raising our family and living there!
AMANDA ANDERSON - Thank you Lavern Johnson for the invite to come and speak at the museum. I feel honored that not only were some of my objects a part of the flood display but that my story will be remembered.
Oh the flood anniversary. I'm watching everyone's videos and posts on Facebook from their memories and mine is empty. Because I remember that I couldn't even hold my head up. I couldn't even make sense of what just happened. I remember a scream that erupted from the depths of my being that I could not calm and I could not quiet. I remember as my children and my friends tried to calm that scream. Sally my best friend was the only one who could. I remember the days that followed were a blur of laundry washing the mud and mold from my daughters stuffed animals and our clothes. Somehow I just kept going. It wasn’t until I was leaving an affordable housing meeting in a blizzard that we were hit head on by a truck that I was forced to slow down from injuries. While I was bed ridden I wrote this poem.
Our home was our sanctuary, the place were we sought shelter from so many storms . So many winters so many falls so many springs and summers. So many memories. There was not one day that I woke up and took our home for granted. I knew how lucky we were to have what we had. I spent a lot of years homeless as a young kid, a young adult and a young mother not knowing where to lay our heads to sleep. I slept in cars, under bridges, in the streets and in the forests. and in those seven wonderful years of having that home I felt safe. We loved our home it had kept us warm. It was all we had, I, poured everything I had into that house maybe some would say it wasn't much because it wasn't a big fancy house with a foundation it didn't have more than one bathroom it didn't have a roof that didn't leak or a big enough water heater. But to us, it was perfect. I would paint the walls different colors they were constantly changing to fit our moods. I would lie different laments to cover the old floor. I'd replace the old faucets. I would dig up the front yard and plant a garden each year. I would climb up the roof to pick apples or listen to the music across the street or simply to try and patch the holes. We loved our home and We treated it as though it was alive part of our family because it was special, it was our home. We had lived life in every corner of that house every nook and cranny had our lives in it. I have to say that when I went back it felt haunted as though there were now ghosts in every corner in every piece of something there was a dying spirit. Maybe because I knew it was destroyed. Maybe because I knew that all that was left was memories. Where Nataya and Zim had their birthdays where Chata would play with milk tops where I would paint where Danny would play his guitar where zim would build another contraption where I would fold the laundry where all our lives had intersected was gone. We signed the title over to our home on the first of December. Not only do we miss our home but our town filled with all the people that we love.
On the night of September 11, 2013 our town was hit with massive amounts of rainfall and by the morning of the 12th two damns had broken wiping the lower poorer class completely out of town. Two mobile home parks were wiped out one of which I lived in. Since that night we have been working tirelessly trying to find solutions to bring back the economic diversity of our town. We had a plan and it was a wonderful plan but we had to put it to a vote because it was using 7 acres of our 25 acre park. The town was split and well it didn't pass an we had no plan B and we lost the grant we were going to use. It may sound silly with all the problems in the world but we just wanted to come home. We are just good honest hard working people from all walks of life. But we did not have the funds to rebuild nor the money to purchase the land.
So I watched all my neighbors slowly disappear.
The news that we had been excepted to Habitat left us shocked and hopeful for the first time in half a decade. We are very excited to start this new chapter in our lives.
Kids, 1 in 5, had a complete loss of their homes, 80% were displaced because of the total loss of all infrastructure. We had no idea where our students were. Some were with relatives, some with friends, some moving from hotel to hotel on FEMA vouchers. When the doors opened, 98% just showed up at that old brick building. They now had each other to lean on. As parents had to struggle with the many paths to rebuild, the kids turned to friends and classmates. From our youth I learned more about resiliency and courage than at any other time in my life. I say this as a two time combat veteran. If you are ever at a time where you search for hope, look to our youth. They will amaze you. They give me ‘Pride and Courage’. Anniversaries should be remembered. The losses should not be forgotten. But the positive should be embraced.
MY FLOOD STORY - Cheron Boland
September 12, 2013 - It was raining hard. At 2:30am the horns came up the canyon announcing that a flood was coming and to evacuate immediately. I took the car and Sonny took his truck and we headed to Holli's house in Hygiene. But...Lyons was completely shut off by the water and we could not get out of town. After turning around, I parked in the Outlaw parking lot and Sonny went to the elementary school shelter. In all of the chaos we lost sight of each other. Eventually I went to the school but I didn't see his truck (I found out later that he had left the shelter and had also gone back home to look for me but was swept up in the flood) I tried to drive back home through the water to look for him. My car quit in the high water and I was stalled for a very long time waiting for help. Finally, my hero's, Evan Patronik and Rusty Ribble got to me in a back loader. They put a life jacket on me, put me in the scoop and drove me to the shelter where I waited all day on Thursday.
Thursday evening Lonna and Ken Cinnamon came to the shelter to pick me up and took me to their house to spend the night. Friday the National Guard truck took me to Lifebridge church where the kids picked me up. We made a headquarters at Holli's house where we waited for any news from Sonny. The kids checked all of the evacuation shelters but he was not at any of them.
Monday September 16th they found his truck and on Wednesday September 18th they found his life jacket several doors down from our neighborhood. On Thursday September 19th his body was discovered another half mile down the river.
There were around 1,000 people who attended his memorial service - students and friends from as far away as Atlanta and California were in attendance. There was such an outpouring of love and support from the community and for that I will always be grateful.
On the 1 year anniversary of the flood/his death the district and town of Lyons dedicated a memorial stone and bench in front of the Elementary school where he taught for 30 years. They also named the School bus lane "Boland Lane". That means the world to us.
Boulder County bought my land and it is now open space. I have not been back up the canyon since they tore the house down. We lived there for 52 years.
I moved to Hover Manor in January of 2014 and my cat Scooter came with me. She survived several days in our flooded home on the top shelf of the closet before being rescued. She died Christmas day 2016 at the age of 19. Scooter used way, way more than her 9 lives!
I have a nice apartment and many friends at Hover Manor but I miss Lyons and all of my friends there.
"Chocolate Milk and Tumbling Culverts"
This is a flashback to an anxious morning we experienced over three years ago.
The date was Thursday, September 12, 2013.
At 5:13 AM, the familiar yet unwelcome chime of the alarm clock wakes me from sound sleep and soon-forgotten dreams. I roll over to see that Renée has already started her day. Her sleeping patterns are sometimes like that: “late to bed and early to rise.” Last night the driving rain had increased to a deluge as we crawled into the warmth beneath the covers of our bed.
Rain. The term in Colorado is “moisture.” Here, we seldom get real rain, but this week we are getting it—yes, buckets of H2O. Moisture is always welcome here in Colorado, but this is autumn, and the rains they had predicted seemed out of season and not very likely. “Rain during harvest” is considered an unwelcome and foreboding omen. Indeed, the rains came as predicted, but the magnitude was beyond anyone’s expectations.
Last night, before retiring to bed, fifteen-year-old Joel quickly ran outside our house in the foothills northwest of Lyons, Colorado. He sprinted down to the creek bed to see if there was any water running. He is the son who is particularly observant and interested in weather patterns and noting temperatures and precipitation amounts. He returns with news that there is a little water in the typically dry creek bed, but not enough to actually flow. And so we all go to bed at 10:00 PM listening to the gradually increasing sound of pouring rain. At 11:00 PM, I am jolted from obscure dreams by the frantic calling of Joel: “Get up everyone, there’s a river outside the back door.” Despite my heavy eyes, Joel convinces me to step out the back door with him to witness the creek surging over its banks.
This morning at 5:20, Renée returns to the bedroom from her computer where she had read a couple messages from friends who live along the river. Renée announced: “You’re not going to work today. There is flooding down in Lyons. It’s bad. The King’s bridge has washed away.” I see the image of their arched steel footbridge spanning the river whose foundations are typically five feet above the waterline. She also said that another friend, Cathy, sent a message that she gave up trying to keep the water out of her house and “evacuated.” Apparently, the blaring emergency sirens echoed off the sandstone cliffs that surround the small town. I listen as the heavy raindrops continue to punish our rooftop. Over the pelting of the rain, I hear the raging of the creek behind our house that had unexpectedly revived last night. In my early morning drowsiness, an eerie apocalyptic feeling slowly surrounds me.
As the rain-muted-light of dawn dimly illuminates the landscape, the situation becomes more apparent. The rain, out-of-season as it may be, has managed to totally saturate the typically dry, absorbent ground. Subsequent precipitation is now rolling off the earth as it would from the back of a duck. Keeping my distance, I walk along the creek donning rain gear and holding the umbrella that was so difficult to locate due to its infrequent use. Amazed at the volume of surface water that had suddenly appeared, I stand in awe, not quite sure I had ever previously witnessed a flash flood. Overcome by curiosity, my family and I run up and jump into the car to take a little tour of the neighborhood. Excessive water flows everywhere we look, obeying gravity, desperately seeking lower ground, mostly succeeding.
We drive the four-mile loop around the back section of our neighborhood and hesitate before crossing the section of Colard Lane that dams up the small depression that we call Bristow’s pond. For a couple weeks during the spring, if the runoff is plentiful, this pond can be full of water and full of life. Beyond that, it is usually a muddy, sandy slough that attracts thirsty mammals at night, a variety of birds during the day, and breeding mosquitoes during dusk and dawn. Today, the water is at the brim, and we are hesitant to cross the road that serves as its earthen dam, but across we venture.
Another mile along the soggy road, we approach another smaller creek-crossing that typically trickles through a couple culverts several feet below the surface of Rowell Drive. Today, the swollen creek kisses the shoulder of the road upstream to our left. Gushing water roars toward our property from the culverts downstream, beneath us to our right. I park the car a safe distance from the saturated, mushy road that crosses the normally dry creek bed. The rain continues to pelt the roof, windshield, and hood of our idling Subaru. Donned in rain gear, a couple of us venture out on foot to test the stability of the soft, waterlogged dirt road. Water from the upstream side is lapping onto the surface of the roadway now. Splashing dots pound the surface of the upstream water in the pond to our left, as well as the numerous puddles that surround us on the road. The road feels like a large pile of spongy mud beneath my boots. With sufficient velocity and subsequent momentum, we may have crossed in the Subaru without incident, but although our driveway is less than a hundred yards beyond this crossing, we make the wise decision to turn around and drive back the four-mile loop on the road we had already tested.
Returning to the dry confines of our home, I find myself staring mindlessly out the picture windows into the driving rain, and at the raging river that only yesterday had merely been a damp creek bed. Sitting along the edge of a river or stream has typically been one of my most relaxing “activities.” I find it soothing to watch something completely obeying gravity on its journey to the sea. But today, the sight is far from soothing; definitely unnerving. At this point, I can only imagine the volume of water that is flowing down the north fork of the Saint Vrain River which is a thousand vertical feet below our home.
Our sons, overcome by curiosity, asked to run up and see if the road had given way yet. With raincoats and hats, they disappear into the driving rain as the front door slams behind them. I did not even consider looking at the clock or setting a timer, but it was approximately two or three minutes after their departure that the creek of high-flowing milk chocolate suddenly doubled in volume and the color changed to a distinctive color of dark chocolate. Marcel and Joel are both within the precarious age group of males that consider themselves invincible, and I feel adrenaline and cortisone pouring into my bloodstream. I quickly calculate the time required for my boys to run up the twenty-five sandstone steps, scamper up the hundred foot driveway, and over the rise in the road and down the hundred yards to the creek crossing in question. In the corner of my eye, I see a large, black object tumbling down the creek. Turning in wonder, I see a twenty-inch diameter, thirty-foot long plastic culvert doing somersaults past our house. The apocalyptic feeling returns to my gut. This storm seems to have reached Biblical proportions.
I had always taken pride in my ability to remain calm in stressful situations. I suppose it is one of the side effects of working in power plants that are, for significant safety reasons, designed to shut themselves down if anything is not just right. It is said that we work in the middle of “controlled danger.” Modern combustion turbines fire at over 2500 degrees Fahrenheit, have 70 tons of metal spinning at 3600 revolutions per minute and crank out over 400,000 horsepower. Steam turbines utilize steam at over 2000 pounds per square inch and 1000 degrees Fahrenheit. Should someone be nearby if one of the steam lines ruptures, there would be no sign of them, not even enough to match dental records. Whenever any of these turbines trip off-line and the generator breaker opens, the safely controlled dispersal of that immense amount of energy is never guaranteed. Perhaps I exaggerate, but after decades of experience working in this environment, potentially hysterical and dangerous situations can begin to seem routine.
But the situation feels quite different when the water flows outside the confines of pipes and turbines and the driving force is unregulated gravity. The panic reaches another level when it is my own family in jeopardy. This morning, my nerves got pushed over that proverbial cliff.
As I run up the stairs toward the front door, I yell to Renée, “Watch the creek to see if the boys go downstream.” Wearing jeans and a tee shirt, I run past the jackets hanging on the hooks by the front door and out into the pouring rain. My heart is leaping from my chest as I scale the steps two or three at a time. Prayers pour from my lips with every panting breath. Up the steps and up the slope of the driveway, I reach the soggy road and turn left with frantic eyes scanning the ever-expanding horizon.
As I crest the top of the rise in the road, the unstable section of the road enters my field of vision. It is now a wide, impassable chasm. Recognizing my sons among the small crowd of spectators, I physically and emotionally release the stress-filled contents of my lungs. An audible exhalation is my first response. I then reduce my desperate sprint to a brisk walk. As I approach the group of neighbors, I realize that I am soaked to the bone, and a shiver rattles its way down my spine.
Our neighbors from across the road, Meg and Josef, are there with a friend of theirs, as well as Larry and Rhonda, and their grown son, Dustin, who live a mile further up the road. They are responsible for grading and plowing these private roads, and are here to assess the damage. The witnesses are looking out from beneath the dripping hoods of their rain gear, smiling and shaking their heads as one who had just heard a bad joke. As I join the assembly, we hear a rumble and turn to see another slab of the dirt road plunge into the stream in the bottom of the newly-formed canyon.
As we stood chatting in the rain a thousand vertical feet above the town of Lyons, the Saint Vrain River, which typically meanders peacefully through town, was in the process of sweeping large trees, vehicles, propane tanks, and homes downstream. At this point in the day, we had no idea what a wild torrent that little river had become. Tragically, during the previous twelve hours, eight human beings had been consumed by the cold, suffocating water that rushed off the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains.
Marcel and Joel, who are distance runners for Lyons High School, are often seen running up and down these hilly roads around the neighborhood. Dustin, who is also periodically out grading the dirt roads looks at them with a suppressed, cynical grin and says, “Well, I guess you won’t be running this direction for a while.” Waiting for the next chunk of earth to fall into the torrent, we stand in the rain and connect with the neighbors in the context of our mutual adversity. This was a precursor to many subsequent visits with a wide range of neighbors in the next couple weeks when the social landscape of the neighborhood would become more compact while particles that had composed the physical landscape dispersed downstream.
I am very thankful to have my 3 kids close by. They have been so supportive to me.
It has been a very tragic ordeal. God Bless my friends and family.