I listened to Sheriff Tom Dalessandri say he realizes people are getting tired of living under the constant strain of evacuations. I thought I’d try to describe life under these circumstances.
But I don’t know if I can describe to a nonresident how it feels to live under this constant threat of a mudslide and debris flow, especially after experiencing the traumatic Coal Seam Fire evacuation two months ago. I came back to a home I thought I’d never see again. What an incredible but bittersweet experience that was.
Five days after returning home from the fire, Sue Hakanson went door to door in our park, making sure we understood we “now lived under the danger of a mudslide,” until the slopes above us healed. I have to thank her, once again, for her timely volunteer efforts.
Immediate preparations were necessary, important papers and momentos packed and removed from the house, flood insurance purchased, information gathered, evacuation plans developed. I felt lucky I still had all those little things that are meaningful, grateful I was spared the fire and had time to move them out now.
I quickly figured out I couldn’t protect my two cats while away from the house, as did my neighbor. I soon realized I couldn’t sleep soundly anymore. So I had to make some hard decisions, immediately, to protect my cats and my health. Some don’t mind leaving their pets under these conditions. Many do, including me. Some are comfortable sleeping, feeling the sheriff will protect them or that the sound of rain will wake them up. Many are not, including me.
I don’t have cable, so couldn’t get the weather warnings on the TV at home. I have one phone line, so was hesitant to get on the Internet or talk on the phone when threatening weather was around because I’d miss the Reverse 911 call. We were told it would be a good idea to leave if rain was imminent.
I have to go outside to see the weather because of how my house is situated. Anytime I’m home, I have one eye on the weather, always, unless the sky is completely clear with no rain predicted. Even away from home, I have one eye on the weather, always.
I decided to find a room away from the constant threat, a place where I could sleep at night, a place near enough so I could remain involved and continue to take care of the house, a place to safely keep my 12-year-old cat.
It was a difficult task, especially this time of year. But I got lucky and found exactly what I needed. Ok, problem solved, at least for a little while, I thought.
But I’m still held captive to the weather. It’s still my home under threat and I experienced a lot of negative reactions to my decision to sleep elsewhere.
I got informed. Those who thought I was “over-reacting” did not. I went to the Fire Information meeting to hear the BAER team’s report. I noticed there was no real information offered regarding homes on Center Drive, other than we were in the general flood path below Donegan Bridge, and that most of our homes weren’t even on the evacuation map distributed by the Sheriff’s Department.
A few co-workers made fun of me because I picked up a copy of the BAER team’s report at the BLM office and actually read it. I didn’t quite understand why it was something to joke about, but soon realized many thought I was overreacting to the danger, or “freaking out.” They weren’t informed, didn’t ask to be informed, or didn’t seem to care, so I tried to ignore the unkind comments. Ignorance is not bliss.
I thought it was odd no one came around to talk to me or most of my neighbors about mitigation efforts, like they did on Donegan Road and above, or those in the park who sit several feet from the creek. I had to seek out professional help myself, so I did.
I talked to two engineers who came out to my house and assessed the danger, for free. I talked to Mike Kishimoto and Dennis Davidson from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, who also came over.
I followed the suggestion they all agreed on and sandbagged a line along the side of the house to encourage drainage to the street. The NRCS arranged for the gravel and sandbags. My son took time off and drove out to help. We did the work, with the help of a neighbor and his son, sandbagging in a light rain.
Though the flood danger isn’t as great for me as it is for those above, I learned if the waters breach the barriers along the creek, it would be. And I learned my house sits on a likely debris flow path, that my bedroom is where it would hit first.
Could you sleep soundly under these conditions? Or would you take sleeping pills, as a neighbor recommended? It seemed everyone had an opinion on what I should or shouldn’t do. Unfortunately, some people thought I was “wrong” or just “nuts.” But the sheriff told us to “be informed,” “pay attention,” that “you’re responsible for your own safety” and that is exactly what I, and many of us living under this danger, have done, and continue to do, every day, every night, for the past seven weeks.
I suspect the officials are getting a little weary of this situation, too. The sheriff noted they were a little hesitant to order an evacuation Monday night. All the other storms went around at the last minute but this one didn’t.
Most people didn’t get the Reverse 911 call because they were already gone, seeing the flash-flood warning issued on the Weather Channel, hearing it over the radio, listening to scanners, leaving when they saw the storm coming or when it started raining.
Every time I leave the house, I wonder if I’ll see it again anytime soon. Every time a black cloud floats by, I wonder if it will dump an inch of rain on that one tiny little area called Mitchell Creek, the one that storm after storm likes to go around. Every time I come home, I’m reminded it isn’t a safe harbor anymore, it’s not comfortable, it’s not relaxed and peaceful, it’s not safe.
The sheriff is trying to help me feel safe, but after Monday night, I see now, more than ever, that closely timed evacuations based on our unpredictable weather is just a calculated game of chance. I feel sorry for the officials who are trying to decide whether to inconvenience people and evacuate or wait and hope for the best.
Being held captive to the weather like this is an incredibly stressful way to live, for everyone involved. Thankfully, those who are informed help those who are not, neighbor helping neighbor. I’ve heard about a few who don’t appreciate “being bothered” about all this nor do they want to leave when “asked” to evacuate. But that doesn’t stop people from caring and trying to help.
One final comment. The people of Glenwood Springs were incredibly supportive and caring during the fire, but it seems many have turned their back on us now, especially the city itself. Is it due to the “out of sight, out of mind” factor because we’re on the far west edge of town? Or because everyone wants to get back to normal, resume business as usual and forget the trauma of the fire? Or because so few bothered to get informed and try to understand this situation?
I wish I could just forget about mudslides and get back to normal. I wish more people would try to understand.
Kristi Chapin is a resident of Mountain Mobile Home Park in West Glenwood Springs, near Mitchell Creek.
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