October 2, 2013

A Colorado Flood Survival Story.


Gurpreet Gill prayed harder than she had in years, asking for God’s protection as a freight train of mud, rocks and debris slammed into her neighbor’s guest cottage.

She and several residents of Salina  thought they’d be safe from the wall of water coming down Four Mile Creek on higher ground.

Her neighbor Eric Stevens was buried up to his neck in mud, his wife propping up his head so that he could breathe; another neighbor had 3 huge boulders pinning her down. With cooking pots and utensils, they spent hours digging one another out—miraculously, everyone survived.

Her fingers bandaged from clawing through the rock laden mud, Michelle Weiber told me that she felt that old spirits in the house had come to protect and save them.

This near death experience was a deeply spiritual one for a few residents of this tiny enclave tucked in a narrow canyon above Boulder.

I had the chance to speak to Michelle and Gurpreet while working with the “Mudslingers,” Boulder’s non-profit flood relief group.

Gurpreet’s Deck

We dug out Gurpreet’s deck from beneath a foot of thick heavy mud, then moved to Michelle’s mud covered floors. We cried “Buckets!” as the conga line of bucket movers returned with empties, hacking at the densely saturated mud with picks and shovels.

I’d previously felt skeptical about the amount of media attention that the Mudslingers had received in the midst of Colorado’s worst natural disaster, including a shout-out by Brian Williams of NBC news.

As the Mudslingers were hailed as saints and saviors, I thought of all the church groups and neighbors helping one another anonymously. But spending the day with the highly motivated Mudslingers, who took great joy in the backbreaking work, was the most gratifying thing I’ve done in a long time.

The inundation of 4,500 square miles of our magnificent state has brought together people of all ages and income brackets to help one another. Our position of relative wealth in Boulder gives us the opportunity to mobilize through social media to respond quickly to such a disaster.

If this had happened in Honduras, Mexico or Indonesia, the limited government resources and poor infrastructure would have caused thousands of deaths. Miraculously, only 10 people have died in the entire event, including a teenaged couple in Boulder who tried to escape their car stuck in a raging torrent and Joey Howlett of Jamestown, who perished when a mudslide crushed him in his home.

This news was particularly sad to me, as Joey was the one who so warmly welcomed my ex and I when we moved to the tightly knit town of 300 people in 1999.

The intersection of Four Mile Canyon Drive and Gold Run Road

As we dry out our basements in Boulder, the people in the rugged canyons just outside of town struggle to reclaim the pieces of their lives. When Gurpreet spoke to me, her eyes were bright with inspiration and love.

She moved gracefully through the volunteers, giving hugs and thank yous and telling her story. She wrote an account of her ordeal as a means of therapy—she seemed remarkably free of stress and pain, considering she nearly lost her life.

Michelle told me she would seek counseling. I’m sure at some point during the clean up, as the shock subsides, the trauma will revisit them in their dreams, yet every day they can be thankful they are alive.

To volunteer with the Mudslingers, contact Donateboulder.org.


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Ed: Catherine Monkman

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