Sun May 2 1999 19:06 EDT
Clear, sunny skies broke through in central Colorado Sunday, giving residents there a break after days of heavy rain which swelled nearby rivers and creeks, flooding streets, homes and businesses.
The rains caused flooding in many towns in El Paso and Pueblo counties, prompting evacuations in the towns of Colorado Springs and La Junta on Saturday.
Emergency crews whisked families away from flooded neighborhoods near the Arkansas River in La Junta Saturday night, said Tony Ramirez, a deputy with the Otero County Sheriff's Department.
The river spilled over its banks early Sunday morning, flooding scores of homes and forcing the evacuation of about 300 families. In areas north of the city, the floods left nearly 8 feet of water in some spots.
"Early this morning, we started getting our major flooding," La Junta Police Dept. Captain Richard Wren said Sunday morning. "It's not a fast-moving flood, but we've got a lot of homes that are inundated with water."
Damage assessment teams were surveying the flooded areas of La Junta late Sunday, said David Pray, disaster specialist with the Denver chapter of the American Red Cross.
"In La Junta, there's probably going to be some major damage," he said.
Floods have plagued parts of Colorado and New Mexico since Friday morning, the result of a stationary low-pressure system that dumped heavy rain as it hovered over the two states during the latter part of the week.
By Sunday evening, rainfall amounts since Thursday morning totaled more than 4 inches in Colorado Springs and nearly 3 inches in La Junta. Parts of Pueblo and El Paso counties, however, had received 9 inches of rain.
In Colorado Springs, floods forced about 300 families to evacuate their homes Friday, said Michelle Cohen, public affairs spokesperson for the city's branch of the Red Cross.
Shelters which had been open in Pueblo and Fountain, Colo., over the weekend were closed Sunday, Pray said, as families were allowed to return to their homes in both areas.
Coloradans recover from floods
Crews continued working Monday to assess the damage in central and southern Colorado, after a weekend of floods that left hundreds of homes and businesses washed out and damage estimates ranging in the millions of dollars.
Clear, sunny skies broke out in Pueblo County on Sunday and Monday, allowing local officials to re-open most of the 25 roads that had been closed over the weekend.
"Things are getting back to normal – it's been dry so far yesterday and today, and that's helped us get the roads open," said Rochelle Cruz, a spokesperson for the Pueblo County Department of Emergency Management.
Early estimates for the damage to roads and bridges across the county, she said, ranged from $2 to 3 million.
In Colorado Springs, flood waters continued receding Monday after forcing nearly 300 families out of their homes over the weekend. Local police re-opened roads Sunday and Monday, leaving only U.S. Highway 24 closed.
Also flooded were the nearby towns of Manitou Springs and Palmer Lake, where the combined damage estimate totaled nearly $1 million, said Ken Hilte, a spokesperson for the El Paso County Sheriff's Office.
"We had 13 inches of rain in Manitou Springs, and today we still have rushing waters in the streets," Hilte said Monday morning.
Some of the worst of the weekend floods occurred in La Junta, Colo., where the Arkansas River spilled over its banks into low-lying areas in the northern part of the city early Sunday, forcing the evacuation of 300 people.
By Monday afternoon, receding flood waters allowed police to return about 100 people to their homes. Officials were keeping a close watch on area levees and canals for any new breaks, said La Junta Police Capt. Richard Wren.
Local government officials and representatives from the American Red Cross were assessing the damage in La Junta late Sunday and early Monday, but there were no estimates yet Monday on the damage.
Several highways in La Junta remained closed Monday due to washout conditions, the Colorado Department of Transportation reported.