DENVER (AP) – More heavy rain drenched Manitou Springs on Monday, three days after a mudslide and flash flood killed one person and left one missing.
The National Weather Service issued a flash flood warning and state highway officials closed U.S. 24, the main highway through town, as a precaution. There were no immediate reports of new flash floods.
Laura Hunter, who survived the weekend flooding, recounted her narrow escape Monday, while Manitou Springs officials said they still haven’t found another woman reported by witnesses to have been swept away Friday.
“I lost everything, but I survived it,” Hunter said at a hospital news conference. “I’m so happy I survived.”
Fire Chief Keith Buckmiller ruled out the possibility that Hunter, 49, was the missing person. Hunter was rescued five blocks from the spot where the missing woman was last seen, Buckmiller said.
Friday’s tragedy struck after about 1.3 inches of rain fell in an area above Manitou Springs burned by the Waldo Canyon Fire last year. The fire destroyed 347 homes, killed two people and burned more than 28 square miles.
Areas burned by wildfires are vulnerable to flash floods because the scorched soil absorbs less water. Friday’s rain swept mud, boulders and other debris into Manitou Springs.
El Paso County sheriff’s deputies said John Collins, 53, of Teller County, was killed by the mudslide, which slid onto U.S. 24.
Collins was found buried beneath debris outside his vehicle. It was unclear if Collins left his vehicle on his own or if the debris and water forced him from it.
Hunter said she was swept away by the floods but was able to grab a tree, fling herself onto a ridge and crawl to higher ground. Neighbors wiped mud from her face and called for paramedics.
It wasn’t immediately clear where she was when the floodwaters caught her.
Hunter said her rented home was washed away but a firefighter returned her ID and bank cards that someone had found. A friend salvaged her bicycle.
“My long-term goals are just to be really grateful for my life, and I want to form really, really, really healthy relationships. That’s the most important thing to me now,” she told reporters at Penrose Hospital in Colorado Springs. She was being treated for a broken leg and other injuries.
Confusion about whether Hunter was the missing person apparently sprang from initial reports that the missing woman was also clinging to a tree, Buckmiller said.
Buckmiller said the missing woman was not in a tree. It wasn’t clear where that apparently inaccurate information came from.
Two other people who were initially unaccounted for were found safe.
At least 20 cars were swept away by Friday’s floods.
Kathryn Presnal of Cascade told The Gazette she got out of her Nissan Versa and scrambled up a cliff, stopping to help another driver stranded by the flood.
“I grabbed her hand and pulled her up,” said Presnal, a school principal in Colorado Springs. “We stood there and watched our cars float away.”
The mudslide destroyed six houses and damaged more than 30 others, said Dave Hunting, a spokesman for the Manitou Springs city government. Natural gas lines also were damaged.
Hunting said the city, county and U.S. Forest Service were trying to blunt the effects of flooding after the wildfire with several steps, including the construction of basins in the burn area to catch sediment.
“With the amount of rain that we received Friday, nothing that we could have done could have prevented the kind of flooding we had,” Hunting said. “Just Mother Nature doing her thing.”
– By Dan Elliott, AP Writer
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