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Saturday, September 9, 2023, will mark 10 years since destructive floods devastated Northern Colorado. The vast majority of the rain fell on that September 11 and 12. Over the course of a week, nine people died, 20,000 residents evacuated and thousands of homes, roads and businesses were destroyed. The cost of the damage came to nearly $4 billion dollars.This series of four in depth stories will focus on specific communities and examine a couple central questions: what has changed since that devastating flood? What have we learned?

After devastating 2013 floods, Glen Haven locals gather at rebuilt town hall to mark anniversary

People stand scattered outside a dark brown log building with the words "Town Hall" in white on the front.
Leigh Paterson
People gather at the Glen Haven Town Hall after an event on Saturday, September 9, commemorating the 10 year anniversary of historic flooding that destroyed much of the community. Speakers talked about rescue operations during the disaster and the massive recovery effort that followed.

Communities across Northern Colorado are marking the 10 year anniversary of the 2013 floods that devastated the region with events last weekend and over the next week.

Last Saturday, residents, elected officials and first responders gathered at the Glen Haven Town Hall to remember the flood's impacts. The original town hall building was badly damaged by the flooding and has since been rebuilt. Residents of this small community in unincorporated Larimer County, eight miles northeast of Estes Park, lost their homes, businesses, roads and bridges.

“I remember thinking, as we went over and just saw everything gone, that I would remember for the rest of my life that everything you have can be lost in an instant,” Sen. John Hickenlooper said of touring the area by helicopter in the days following the flooding.

Faded photos of people are posted on a window with a view of green grass and a parking lot outside.
Leigh Paterson
Photos of the rescue effort hang in the Glen Haven Town Hall during an event to commemorate the 10 year anniversary of destructive flooding in Northern Colorado. Statewide, 3,000 people were rescued by first responders and nine people died.

Photos of the recovery effort were taped all over the town hall’s windows, including one of a woman with a small child on her chest being evacuated on a stretcher. Longtime resident and volunteer firefighter Tom Housewright spoke to the audience about his memories of September 11, 2013, a harrowing night during which homes were engulfed by water and cars were flipped upside down.

Housewright and other first responders evacuated residents while the roads were washing out. That included a friend of Housewright's who called for help after his Ford Bronco got stuck in the rushing floodwaters. Housewright tied one end of a strap to his own vehicle before instructing the motorist to do the same.

“He's going underwater to get the strap around his axle. And it took three tries, but we got him out,” Housewright said.

Thanks to an usual weather pattern hovering over the Front Range, precipitation began on September 9, 2013, with the most intense rainfall soaking communities on September 11 and 12. Catastrophic flooding followed.

Twenty six thousand homes were damaged or destroyed; 19,000 people were evacuated; and at least nine people died during the disaster. Damage across the state reached nearly $4 billion and 18 Colorado counties were designated for FEMA’s public assistance program.

Northern Colorado communities like Glen Haven have been dealing with the aftermath for years. Because Glen Haven isn’t a registered town, residents were ineligible for some disaster funding, according to reporting by The Denver Post. They have since rebuilt many homes and businesses themselves, with help from volunteers from all over the country.

“One of the youth groups that I remember the most, they were really cute. They were a middle school choir from Illinois. And they were down (County Road) 43 just picking up debris and stuff, and they actually found the remains of the old firehouse,” volunteer firefighter Linda Lambert said.

People sit in rows of chairs indoors.
Leigh Paterson
Elected officials joined first responders and residents at the Glen Haven Town hall on Saturday to remember the impact of the 2013 floods and highlight recovery efforts. Most of the community was destroyed by the catastrophic flooding a decade ago.

Other communities like Glen Haven gathered over the weekend for similar celebrations. A number of events and activities will also take place this week across Northern Colorado. On Monday, the town of Lyons will hold a candlelight vigil, open to residents only. On Tuesday evening, the Carnegie Library for Local History in Boulder is holding a story sharing event for community members. On Thursday, the Longmont Museum is unveiling an exhibition of photographs of the 2013 flood and its aftermath taken by community members.

Ten years later, most of the debris from the washed away homes and roads has been cleared away, and infrastructure has been fixed or rebuilt. Some towns are moving ahead with infrastructure imrovements and resiliency measures. Longmont, for example, just finished a project to deepen and widen the St. Vrain Creek. But some neighborhoods in flood-prone areas, including two mobile home parks in Lyons, will never be restored.

Still, the risk of flooding in the region persists. Glen Haven in particular has experienced multiple serious flooding events since 2013, including flash floods last month that damaged roads. Past and present, community members are reminded of the continued importance of supporting each other.

"So here we are 10 years later, a testament to the extraordinary impact of the volunteers, and the impact that they can have," Lambert said. "Our recovery is not just about rebuilding buildings and roads. It's about restoring our love for Glen Haven."

As KUNC's Senior Editor and Reporter, my job is to find out what’s important to northern Colorado residents and why. I seek to create a deeper sense of urgency and understanding around these issues through in-depth, character driven daily reporting and series work.