By Ken Singer
We bought the house on Apple Valley Road in Lyons in September 2012, did renovations and moved from New Jersey in July 2013. For the 10 weeks we were here before the flood, we enjoyed the house, the community, and the river. Prior to the flood, when we told people we lived on the river on Apple Valley Road, the typical response was
“Oh, you are so lucky.” For many months after the flood, the response is more likely to be “Oh, I'm so sorry.” I tell them that it wasn't their fault for the flood.
I went to bed around 10 p.m., that night. Around 2 a.m., Sandy, my wife who had been monitoring the river all day and into the night, woke me tensely saying, “The river is way high. Either you have to talk me down, or we need to get out of here.” I asked, “Did you hear the siren go off?”
Just then, the loudspeaker warned, “Seek higher ground immediately. Flooding is immanent.” We wrestled the two cats into the cat carrier, and drove the car up to the Hall Ranch parking lot on Antelope.
We were joined by some neighbors, also from along the river. The next few rainy hours were filled with uncertainty and rumors. Was Button Rock Dam in danger of bursting? It would unleash a 50 foot wall of water, according to one of our neighbors who had lived here much longer than we had. I quickly calculated that the parking lot on Antelope at the trail head was much more than 50 feet above the river. That was a bit of a relief... but what was going on down below with our beloved house located just 10 yards or so from the river in normal times?
At dawn, we drove down Antelope and were distressed to see the river had flooded previously wide, green fields. We had no idea whether our house, which is so close to the river, had been flooded. We were stunned when we saw that the water had reached the door sills of the lower level of the house and we could see it rise as we watched.
The river was blasting through and carrying away our neighbor's land. We saw his ancient, massive willow tree collapse into the torrent. Our trees that had stood on the sloping bank were already gone. The higher lawn that the former owners had laboriously maintained green with the pump in the river was eroding rapidly and our lovely apple, locust and cottonwood trees and glorious lilac bushes—that we had never gotten to see bloom—were torn out by the river and swept downstream.
It was like watching an iceberg calve. Who would have thought that land that was high above the water would just collapse and disappear?! As we watched, the river began taking down the utility poles and then began eating away the pavement of Apple Valley Road itself!
Our land line phone cut out that morning. Since cell service is pretty poor on Apple Valley, we looked for someone with a working phone. We walked upstream along the road, encountering neighbors who seemed just as awe-struck or in shock as we were. An older woman who seemed terribly confused from near Shelly's Cottages had crossed on a narrow ledge above the torrent also looking for a working phone. She made a call to her daughter in another state to say she was alright but was determined to get back to her home despite warnings from others that it was unsafe to head back to her home. We left without knowing whether she went back across the raging torrent of the North St. Vrain.
We had several offers to stay with neighbors on the uphill side of the road on the second night. Since the possibility of a Button Rock Dam collapse was still the rumor of the day, we took the offer of Jim and Donna Stonebraker to come to their house on Antelope which was well above the threat of a huge wall of water. We had not met prior to the day. Their easy hospitality was so comforting and reassuring. Up there, we could no longer hear the disturbing roar of the river and could pretend things were normal and that it was all just a bad dream. But it was all too real.
On Friday, the National Guard arrived in big wheeled trucks and called a meeting of Apple Valley residents ready to evacuate the road. Notably, we were the only residents of Apple Valley at that meeting on the road who opted to be taken out. I had run out of one of my heart medications and naively asked the paramedic with them if they could deliver it from the Safeway in Longmont.
“No way”, she said and added, “If I were you, I'd take them up on their offer” to leave. So, we were the only people (plus two cats) on the “deuce and a half” big wheel truck. Seeing the scope of the devastation of the south end of Apple Valley for the first time from the back of that truck was breath-taking and unbelievable.
When we left Apple Valley that day, we assumed the river would continue to erode our land and that the house was going downstream maybe to Nebraska. We said goodbye to the home we had loved for the 10 weeks prior to the flood—the home we had planned to live in for the rest of our lives. A couple days later, a cousin in Massachusetts who had stayed with us for a few days before the flood emailed us a link to a video shot from the air on Sunday. It appeared from the video that the house was still standing!
So, after many months of eating lunches provided by the Salvation Army, going to the Twin Peaks mall for flood relief assistance, commiserating with other flood victims, getting the blue hang-tag to get back to the house, driving to Boulder for various county permits and many other flood activities, we had a full-time job of getting our lives back together.
We had a nice purple port-a-potty we called the “Purple Palace.” We showered, washed dishes, did laundry, and got water from our son and daughter-in-law's house just a half hour away. We basically camped out at the house until November's below zero temperatures and decided that we would move to our kid's new house in Lafayette since we had no heat except for a wood stove and two electric space heaters. We stayed there until the septic system - (courtesy of a Boulder County grant) was put in and the water was connected in March. All that was needed to move back was a connection to the gas line for heat. That finally happened on April 8. We moved back in at that time - 574 days after the flood, but who's counting?
The first floor, which was pretty damaged, was ordered to be “decommissioned” by the county. That meant we would only be able to use it for storage, a loss of 40% of our home. Fortunately, we were able to persuade the county commissioners that we could safely move back with full usage of the space.
We had lived the past 36 years in a beautiful Delaware River town of 4000 people in New Jersey. The community spirit of Lyons and resilience of our neighbors since the flood has been affirming and inspirational. We are overwhelmed by the many volunteers after the flood and even today, five years later.
Our hearts go out to all our Apple Valley and Lyons neighbors who were affected by the flood and especially those who still have not returned home, and those who no longer have a home to return to. And we will be forever grateful to all our neighbors, friends, family, federal and county officials, and volunteers who supported us through this life-altering experience.
We are proud to be part of “Lyons Strong.”