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Fall arrives with a deluge

By Brandon Mathis
Herald Staff Writer

Early fall didn’t look a whole lot different from late summer on Sunday.

Similar to what happened just four days ago in Southwest Colorado, severe rain and hailstorms closed off streets and highways around Durango and La Plata County. The storms came almost simultaneously with the onset of fall, which officially began Sunday at 2:44 p.m. Mountain Daylight Time.

Flooding and mud slides brought destruction and confusion to the area. The afternoon storms came from the west, tore through Durango and continued toward the Lemon and Vallecito reservoir areas and also hit Bayfield.

Christopher Cuoco from the National Weather Service in Grand Junction said “very powerful storms” moved over La Plata County in a “sharp cold front.” He said 1 to 1.5 inches of rain was reported in various locations around Durango and over Missionary Ridge.

A flood of water coming off Animas Mountain made a lake on U.S. Highway 550 near the Iron Horse Inn. A full-sized SUV, a Toyota Sequoia, became stuck in the southbound lanes at that location. The driver was able to exit the vehicle and was transported to town by authorities.

The highway was closed at that spot Sunday evening with an uncertain reopening, the Colorado State Patrol said. Traffic was able to get around the closure by using Animas View Drive.

Durango Fire & Rescue Authority Marshal Karola Hanks said the impact of Sunday’s storms was worse than the previous storm, which hit Wednesday evening.

A partial list of other road floodings and closures:

Florida Road was closed between East Third Avenue and Riverview Drive for several hours because of mud, water and debris. City crews expected to have the road reopening later Sunday evening, the city of Durango said in a news release, but delays should be expected.

Water coming down from Animas Mountain ran over the Animas River bridge on 32nd Street, closing it for several hours.

At Gem Village near Bayfield an irrigation ditch was flooding onto U.S. Highway 160.

County Road 250 was again blocked by heavy mud and debris near Woodard Canyon. County road crews worked to clear it Sunday night, but access will be limited for several days for debris removal. The road is open to residents only from Trimble Lane to the 2000 block.

Butch Knowlton, director of the county’s Office of Emergency Management, said removing the large volume of debris from the road was a priority, to allow for emergency vehicles to pass if necessary. The next priority was to clear Florida Road (County Road 240) east of the city.

From their position on County Road 250, Knowlton and county Road Maintenance Superintendent Doyle Villers were managing incidents all over the county.

County Road 501, which runs between Bayfield and Vallecito, also suffered significant damage.

Among the county roads affected were 203, 204 (Junction Creek), 210, 213 (La Posta). 225, 245, 234, 105 and 119, the county said in a Sunday evening news release.

“There is equipment all over the county,” Knowlton said. “This is the biggest equipment we have, removing massive volumes of debris on three separate occasions this afternoon.”

Villers said at one point the debris on County Road 250 was up to six feet in depth.

He added there were 15 crew members engaged and 12 pieces of equipment in service, plus a standby list of people on-call.

Knowlton added that with the help of county residents and search and rescue volunteers tracking storm activity, as well as the National Weather Service, who kept him informed on when and where the storms were going, crews were able to prepare for the upcoming conditions.

“Our relationship with Grand Junction has really paid off,” he said. “With these updates, we’ve been able to figure out all afternoon where it would hit.”

Damaging golf ball-sized hail was reported in several places.

Jean Campion, who lives between Marvel and Redmesa in western La Plata County, said hail stones broke out windows at her house and left the siding on her house pockmarked.

Hanks said that fall is typically a time for flooding and severe weather in the area.

“If you look at it, historically, this is when the river will flood, is in the fall,” she said.

She said the wet ground leaves nowhere for water to go.

“The ground is completely saturated, so anything landing is coming off,” Hanks said. “Water goes downhill, and it happens all at once.”

Villers says it will be a week to 10 days for the roads to be completely cleared and drivers should respect the work ahead.

“Crews will be working for days,” he said. “So we ask people slow down and help us. Drive with caution.”

Property damage had not yet been assessed Sunday night.

La Plata Electric Association reported several small weather-related power outages Sunday, affecting 230 customers. Four LPEA crews were working Sunday night to make repairs, LPEA said in a news release.

At least one auto accident near Farmington Hill was attributed to weather, the Colorado State Patrol said. No injuries were reported.

Those who believe in weather forecasts will take heart in the National Weather Service’s forecast for the next week. Today, Durango is slated for sunny skies and a high of 69. There is no rain forecast through Sunday.

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