Gypsum-based helicopter crews helping Colorado flood victims | PostIndependent.com

Gypsum-based helicopter crews helping Colorado flood victims

Randy Wyrick
rwyrick@vaildaily.com

Hundreds of Colorado flood victims have been rescued by helicopter crews from the Colorado Army National Guard. Local crews from the High Altitude Army Training Site, HAATS, based at the Eagle County Regional Airport, are among rescue workers extracting stranded residents from flood zones along Colorado's Front Range. These people are unloading from a Chinook. Crews flew so many missions that they kept the rotors turning while they refueled.
Army National Guard Sgt. Joseph K. VonNida | Digital

How to help

Here are some groups accepting donations for flood victims:

The Salvation Army

The Salvation Army uses 100 percent of your disaster donations in support of local disaster relief operations.

To give, visit imsalvationarmy.org or call 1-800-SAL-ARMY (1-800-725-2769) and designate “Colorado Floods.” You may also text GIVEHOPEIM to 80888 to donate $10 to The Salvation Army.* Donations by mail may be designated “Colorado Floods”and sent to:

The Salvation Army

P.O. Box 60006

Prescott, AZ 86304

Red Cross

Visit redcross.org, call 1-800-RED CROSS or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Contributions may also be made by visiting ColoradoRedCross.org.

Help Colorado Now

HelpColoradoNow.org is a partnership between the Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (DHSEM) and Colorado Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (COVOAD).

Foothills United Way

Foothills United Way has established the Foothills Flood Relief Fund. Organizers expect to use this fund for immediate relief as well as longer-term recovery in Boulder and Broomfield Counties. Go to unitedwayfoothills.org/floodrelief

Larimer Humane Society

Visit larimerhumane.org, or call 970-226-3647, Ext. 7 (Animal Protection and Control)

Concerns about scams

If something sounds fishy visit the Colorado Secretary of State’s website: http://www.sos.state.co.us/ccsa/CcsaInquiryMain.do

EAGLE COUNTY — Maj. Tony Somogyi turned his tired eyes to the gray, drizzling skies over Colorado’s Front Range as he and the rest of the HAATS crew pulled on their helmets and went about the business of doing what needed to be done … which is still everything.

Colorado National Guard aviators from the High Altitude Army National Guard Training Site are among almost two dozen military crews flying rescue missions, or trying to. Heavy rain grounded them for much of Sunday.

It was still raining late Monday morning.

“If we can get out of here we’ll be pulling people out all day long,” said Somogyi, HAATS executive officer.

On Saturday, helicopter crews pulled out more than 600 people. The local HAATS crews rescued 207 people, 45 animals and delivered 7,000 pounds of cargo — water, food and medical supplies.

“This is what the National Guard should be used for,” Somogyi said.

No one balked when they requested approval to fly longer Saturday than their allotted eight hours.

While they were flying rescue missions along the Front Range, on Monday HAATS crews were also running a search and rescue operation near the Fryingpan river, trying to locate a couple of lost hunters. That one was their 23rd search and rescue this year, Somogyi said.

Rescuing the rescuers

Back on the Front Range, the rains returned Sunday and a few Colorado National Guardsman and first responders were added to the list of flood evacuees.

Flood waters in Lyons rose so high and fast that even the half-dozen Light Medium Tactical Vehicles couldn’t ford them. The vehicle is the military’s go-to high-mobility truck for ground search-and-rescue efforts.

When the weather broke briefly Sunday aviators headed out to rescue 51 people still stranded in Lyons. Of those 51 were 15 first responders and Guardsmen, waiting out the flood on higher ground.

“People didn’t realize how bad it was, so some of them stayed,” Somogyi said.

In one flight to rescue a husband and wife, the wife had to evacuate because she was running out of medicine. The husband stayed and told Guardsmen he’d be fine if they’d bring him some food and water.

He’s on the list, but by Monday morning pilots hadn’t been able to get back there.

The HAATS crews are at Christman Field in Larimer County, part of a Larimer County Sheriff’s Office operation. At 6 p.m. Saturday the Federal Emergency Management Agency took over rescue operations.

“They’re pulling resources from wherever they can get them,” Somogyi said.

Crews are working every second they can, carrying medical supplies and pallets of food and water in one direction, and the people they rescue in the other, Somogyi said.

Seven people have been killed and 1,000 others remain unaccounted for, meaning they have not communicated with friends or relatives, officials said.

More than 19,000 homes have been damaged and parts of roads and bridges in Boulder and Larimer counties have vanished,

Disaster recovery

Local disaster recovery companies hit the Front Range late last week. Steammaster and Service Master have both been there since Friday, working to help people dry out and dig out.

“Our industry is inundated right now. It’s hard to see people going through this,” said Raj Manickam with Steammaster.

First responders save people and animals, then second responders like recovery companies roll in, Manickam said.

“We get a call from one person in a neighborhood, and when we go over three or four people will run out of their homes shouting, ‘Hey! Come to my house!’”

Sometimes they’ll leave equipment with people and show them how to run it, then check back later to see how they’re doing, Manickam said.

Because it’s still raining, it’s hard to pump things out, said Christine Thurston with Service Master.

There’s so much water that even if it’s pumped out, it sometimes seeps back in through saturated cement, Thurston said.

“There are some communities we still can’t get to,” Thurston said.

A break in the weather

The weather pattern that caused all this is finally moving away, according to forecasts by Accuweather.

Boulder was deluged with more than 10 inches of rain since Sept. 8. That’s 26 times the normal rainfall for the week. Some Colorado communities were hit with twice that.

Some areas will get the afternoon thunderstorms common this time of year, Accuweather said, but dry air is filtering in from the West, said Accuweather chief meteorologist Elliot Abrams.

The spotty storms can still cause incidents of flash flooding, but most streams and rivers will recede this week, Abrams said.

Heavy rainfall will hit south of us, in Texas and the southern Plains, Abrams said.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.


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