Highway 550, county roads reopen after debris flows caused closures

Tuesday, July 24, 2018 8:54 PM

Updated at 6:40 p.m.

U.S. Highway 550, County Road 250, County Road 250C and County Roads 203 all reopened about 6:30 p.m., said Megan Graham, La Plata County spokeswoman.

Debris crossing U.S. Highway 550 caused temporary highway closures Tuesday afternoon from Trimble Lane to the intersection of County Road 250C at Shalona Hill. County Roads 203 and 250 were also closed from Trimble Lane north, because of debris flow.

Shortly before 2:30 p.m., the debris flow began closing roads and highways in the north Animas Valley

Mud and debris was most extensive on the west side of U.S. Highway 550 in the area around Animas Valley Apartments, Hermosa Hills and Animas Village condominiums, as well as the homes on Whispering Pines Drive.

Law enforcement officials were urging residents of these areas to leave their homes, and provided transportation to an evacuation center that opened Tuesday at the La Plata County Fairgrounds.

The evacuation center will close at 7 p.m. Tuesday, as will the community hotline at (970) 385-8700. Both resources will reopen as needed.

Updated at 5:30 p.m.

About 800 passengers from the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad are stranded north of Durango.

Christian Robbins, spokesman for the railroad, said the trains were able to stop at the Rockwood station, so passengers can easily be transferred to buses and back to Durango.

The buses must first wait for U.S. Highway 550 to reopen. The situation is much better than last week, Robbins said, when the train was stranded near Shalona Hill and passengers had to walk to the highway to get to buses.

Robbins said the train has suspended service Wednesday and Thursday. The D&SNG has yet to assess the full damage of the floods to its tracks, so it’s unclear when the train will start running again.

“It was a pretty big flood,” Robbins said. “But it’s way too early to determine the damage to the tracks.”

Updated at 5:15 p.m.

Graham, spokeswoman for La Plata County, said County Road 203 has reopened. She said County Road 250 is open, but only for southbound traffic from County Road 250C to Trimble Lane.

Colorado State Patrol Capt. Adrian Driscoll said U.S. Highway 550 could reopen within the hour.

Updated 4:20 p.m.

Lisa Schwantes, spokeswoman with the Colorado Department of Transportation, said two clearing operations are underway in an effort to open one lane on U.S. Highway 550 to alternating traffic.

But she had no time estimate for when one lane could be cleared.

She said 6 feet of boulders, rock and mud is blocking Highway 550 near Honeyville.

The second clearing operation, near Animas Village Apartments, had 1 foot of debris covering the highway.

At least two graders were sent to assist CDOT equipment already on Highway 550 working to clear debris from last week’s flooding.

Evacuees from the current flooding are being taken to La Plata County Fairgrounds, 2500 Main Ave.

Updated at 4:10 p.m.

All roads north of Trimble Lane in Durango are closed, including Highway 550, County Road 203 and County Road 250.

Authorities are attempting to move evacuees from the flooding and debris flow south to Durango.

Scot Davis, spokeswoman for Durango Fire Protection District, said debris is actively moving onto the road north of Durango on U.S. Highway 550.

Davis said there have been no reports of injury, but homes have been damaged. He said another storm cell is making its way into the flood area.

La Plata Electric Association has cut off power in the Animas Valley as a preventive safety measure. Power will be restored once it’s safe, a spokeswoman said.

Updated at 3:45 p.m.

Debris flowed onto U.S. Highway 550 near Honeyville and other nearby spots on Tuesday afternoon, blocking the highway in several places.

As of 3:45 p.m., County Road 250 was closed north of Trimble Lane. Davis said debris from the 2002 Missionary Ridge Fire is flowing onto the road.

The rains came shortly after the National Weather Service issued a flash-flood alert for the 416 Fire burn scar about 2 p.m.

“We had water flowing around the house at least 1-foot deep,” said Norma Byrd, who was calling from the Country Sunshine Bed & Breakfast off the frontage road near mile marker 34 on Highway 550.

A guest had just managed to reach the bed and breakfast after being trapped between two slides, Byrd said.

“It was spectacular to hear the river come through. It was not deep, but it was wide, about 30-feet wide,” Byrd said. “The rain was torrential, worse than last week,” she said.

Mike Glowac, who lives near Honeyville, said the irrigation ditch that flows near his house overflowed and he has a big cleanup job ahead of him, but his house was not damaged.

“A lot of coal, ash and burnt logs came down and some weird foam, pretty gross,” he said.

Rain was pretty consistent, he said. Then it hailed, and that was followed by more rain.

“I didn’t notice anything first. Then pallets started floating by my yard. I think they were from Honeyville.

Kaylee Leidal and her husband, Brian, bought their house on County Road 250 in April.

Last week, mud caused significant damage to the interior of their home, which is across the street from the KOA Campground.

“We need to replace our entire first floor flooring, and likely some of our drywall,” she said.

Today, it rained for about 20 minutes before debris flows hit that lasted for 7 to 8 minutes, she said. She was unsure of the exact damage from today’s debris flows.

As of 3:15 p.m., things had calmed down and people were walking on County Road 250. There was a stream of water still flowing toward the road, Leidal said.

Schwantes confirmed U.S. Highway 550 was closed at mile 35 in both directions, near the same location as flooding last week.

Butch Knowlton, director of La Plata County Emergency Preparedness, said floods and debris flows are near the KOA Campground and the Animas Village Apartments, formerly the Whispering Pine Apartments.

A Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge train to Silverton was stopped in Rockwood to prevent it from entering the area where debris was flowing.

The flash flood warning was issued by the National Weather Service for the 416 Fire burn scar about 2 p.m. and extends through 5:15 p.m. today.

Residents should shelter in place if their property is flooding, Durango Fire Protection District spokesman Scot Davis said.

DFPD firefighters are responding to the area, but they are not able to drive beyond the road closure at about 3:15 p.m., Davis said.

Those people who are in floods should call 911 and advise emergency responders of their condition and location, he said.

“We will get fire and rescue personal to you as quickly as possible,” Davis said.

DFPD firefighters will respond to those people depending on their priority. Those with a gas leak or a medical condition or other emergency situation will be prioritized, he said.

Linda Jones, a resident of the Animas Village Apartments on Highway 550, said a wall of mud was flowing by her home and it was hailing at about 2:30 p.m.

“Our cars are flooded; we have no way out,” she said. Mud was also flowing across Highway 550, blocking their exit.

She estimated that several hundred people are stranded.

Jones said she lives in a top-floor apartment and could see the mud flowing into the homes on the bottom level.

She received a Code Red alert from La Plata County about the potential flooding but did not have enough time to leave, she said.

Mike Charnick, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said the flash-flood warning is issued when storms are above the burn area that hold the high potential to cause flooding and debris flow from the burn area.

The rain that came, as predicted by the alert, led to debris flow moving through the Hermosa Creek Drainage and Tripp Gulch Drainage.

Debris flows can consist of rock, mud, vegetation and other loose materials.

The area includes U.S. Highway 550 between mile markers 25 and 44.

“A couple of thunderstorms are developing that hold the potential for flooding and debris flow for the next three hours,” Charnick said around 2 p.m.

The Weather Service said people near rivers or streams should move to higher ground. People in or near the 416 Fire burn area should be watchful for developing debris flow and flooding, and they should move away from the burn area.

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A storm over the 416 Fire burn area caused flooding and debris flows Tuesday, closing U.S. Highway 550 north of Durango.