Severe widespread flooding in Colorado – labeled “Biblical” by many members of the secular media – has accounted for the deaths of at least eight people and left hundreds of others unaccounted for after more than a week of substantial rainfall through the Rocky Mountains.
The heavy rainfall has been so rampant and destructive that a number of roads in the state have been completely washed away, along with numerous bridges and homes by flash flooding and mudslides. City streets and neighborhoods are filled with floodwaters brought on by record amounts of rain in short periods of time.
A disaster declaration was issued, and mandatory evacuations were ordered in several communities.
Approximately 1,500 homes have been destroyed with nearly 18,000 more suffering damage from flood waters brought on by nearly 2 feet of rain since Sept. 9.
The flooding comes on the heels of two major wildfires in Colorado in the last 18 months. So massive in scale were those wildfires that they burned countless acres of land and destroyed vegetation that normally would provide a buffer for heavy rains.
“It’s been a rough 15 months here in the whole state and Colorado Springs in particular under the judgment of nature,” said the Rev. Dr. Tom Trinidad, pastor of Faith Presbyterian Church in Colroado Springs and vice moderator of the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s 220th General Assembly. “The ground is so saturated that it can’t hold the water, so any time it rains it leads to flooding. There’s no vegetation to support the landscape, and the water runs right off the mountains.”
PDA responds to crisis
Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) has responded to the situation in Colorado in areas most affected by the flooding such as Colorado Springs, Denver, Fort Collins, Greeley, Aurora and Boulder. Some of these areas also have been plagued by the wildfires in years past.
Pamela Burdine, associate of Constituency Relations and Network Development for PDA, said Christians are being called to stand in the GAP for their fellow brothers and sisters affected by the natural disaster.
By filling the GAP, people are called to Give, Act and Pray. Burdine said financial assistance can be provided, but cleanup buckets and hygiene kits will be needed for all those who have been displaced by the flood waters due to evacuations or loss of their homes.
Melody Smith, of the PCUSA Communications Ministry, added, “It’s such a sad situation out there (in Colorado). We need to pray for those people. That’s what we need to be doing here for the people affected by this disaster there.”
As the waters recede, PDA team members will be able to help assess damages and provide assistance for long-term recovery.
“So many people have been displaced,” Burdine said. “PDA will have people on site to determine how we can assist with this situation.”
Rescues and recovery
Recovery from the natural disaster is expected to take weeks if not months as the mountain communities have gone from a nature lover’s paradise to a disaster zone with few supplies and services available.
More than 400 helicopter rescues have been conducted, the largest aerial rescue operation since Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Emergency officials have been wading through the rubble of destroyed homes, businesses and other structures as they continue to look for people still unaccounted for since the torrential rain started a week ago. At one point, the number of missing people was 1,253, but that was updated to 658 by Sept. 17.
The flood waters cover more than 2,000 square miles in Colorado, an area about twice the size of Rhode Island. More than 11,000 people have been evacuated and there are several evacuation orders still in effect as flooding has impacted 15 counties.
So substantial is the flooding that President Barack Obama signed a major disaster declaration for Colorado on Sept. 15 and ordered federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper told ABC’s “Good Morning America” that many people have been without any kind of phone or Internet communications since the middle of last week, saying the focus of the rescue effort is to make sure everyone in harm’s way gets “out of there.” Hickenlooper says while the death toll is expected to rise, he’s hopeful that the vast majority of those people are “safe and sound.”
Helping each other
Trinidad said there has been no direct impact on his congregation related to the flooding, but he noted many members have friends who have had their lives disrupted by the events of nature that have unfolded in the last week.
“It’s an amazing amount of water, especially in the northern part of the state like Boulder and Laramie (counties),” he said. “This is water we have not seen. ’Biblical’ is the adjective being used in the press, and I think that’s not an inaccurate use.”
Trinidad noted there has been a significant economic impact already with numerous businesses being forced to close as a result of the flooding, not to mention the constant duress for homes in the affected areas.
But even before formal rescue efforts were coordinated, he saw many people working to help their fellow brothers and sisters. Shovels and buckets in hand, they tried to assist with cleanup efforts.
“People already were out there helping each other,” Trinidad said, noting that PDA has provided continual support since the wildfires raged last summer and again this year. “We’re all trying to do what we can to organize our own lives and help those in need.
“We’re shocked at the state of chaos Colorado has been under from these natural disasters.”
Relying on God
Trinidad pointed to an upcoming lectionary for November found in Luke 21 when Jesus talks of trials and tribulations as a way to best proclaim God’s Word in today’s situation facing Coloradans coping with the flooding. He noted that God will provide for those affected by the flooding, seeing them through such a dismal time in their lives.
“Naturally, that’s where we need to go to be reminded that no matter how bad things appear or how bad our experiences are, there’s always promise and a sovereignty above chaos,” he said of turning to the Bible for comfort in desperate times such as flooding and unchecked wildfires.
Trinidad added that he was reminded of Psalm 51 – David’s plea for mercy, forgiveness and cleansing – regarding people being persecuted or going through any form of suffering. He said his congregation is very aware of those situations and constantly prays for those affected in such ways.
“We’re very attentive to what goes on in Syria, Egypt, Nigeria and Colorado,” he said. “We pray and ask that God show us His grace and mercy. The assurance of God’s presence and promise has to sustain in times like these.”