Abby Fry may be only 4 years old, but she is motivated to start cleaning up after flooding damaged her family’s apartment.
Since Tuesday’s floods, mudslides and debris flows, Abby can be seen in the parking lot of Animas Village Apartments shoveling mud and rocks with her toy shovel.
The damage was particularly bad to the apartment where Abby lives with her mother, Apryl, and her 8-year-old brother, Ryin.
“It came straight down the mountain through where we live, literally,” Apryl Fry said.
The floods caused extensive damage to her apartment, she said. The family is relegated to staying in their bedrooms, which were spared the onslaught of mud and water that blankets their living room floor.
Fry and her children can’t catch a break from natural disasters.
“We had to be evacuated for the fire, and then this mud really scared them,” she said.
Fry says her family’s favorite thing to do is go outside, but that is not possible anymore because of the fire and floods. Fry says Ryin has been acting up because of the stress. But the family keeps holding on.
“We always seem to find something that brings us back to what matters, which is family,” she said.
Tough summerHomeowners and renters north of Durango have been at the mercy of Mother Nature since summer began. First, the 416 Fire forced evacuations. Now, rain has dislodged debris, and anything below – homes, cars and roads – will face the raging river of mud and rocks.
That’s what happened July 17 near the KOA Campground and what happened again Tuesday near Honeyville. Residents and businesses in the area spent Wednesday assessing the damage and looking nervously toward the sky, as forecasts predicted more thunderstorms.
“This river of boulders and rocks came down right where you start going into the housing development,” said resident Linda Jones. “The boulders and the river were as high as the bottom floor of one of the apartment’s windows. One whole building is pretty much devastated.”
Jones spent Wednesday morning trying to clean mud off her car and preparing for more floods.
“We’re in shock, and we’re really worried that’s gonna happen again, possibly this afternoon,” she said.
‘Pretty overwhelming’Andrew Loya, a plumber with Master Rooter, was on a service call next door at the Hermosa Hill Condominiums.
“Next thing I knew, my truck was 60 feet away from the home that I was servicing,” he said. “There were rocks half the size of cars everywhere, propane tanks ripped off the pipes, spewing gas everywhere, natural gas meters ripped off the pipes,” he said.
Because his truck was lodged in a stream of boulders, he had to hike down the road and eventually got a ride back to town from rescue workers.
“It was pretty overwhelming and scary,” he said.
Insurance issuesDeb Campbell, an account manager for Durango CoWest Insurance, said that most homeowners’ and renters’ insurance policies do not cover flood damage.
Plus, people seeking insurance could be hard-pressed because policies have waiting periods. A majority of flood insurance is issued through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which has a 30-day waiting period.
The scene of mud flowing down streets and driveways seems like the new normal for Kaylee and Brian Leidal, who purchased their home on County Road 250 in April.
“Really at this point, we’re trying to figure out what’s the long-term plan here,” Kaylee said.
In last week’s floods, the interior of their home sustained significant damage. They’ll need to replace their first floor flooring and some drywall, she said.
Since the first flood, the couple built drainage ditches around their property, but the latest flooding flushed those away. The damage to the house was not as bad this week, but a small amount of water did get into their home, she said.
“It’s really frustrating to put in a lot of work to our brand new house and just helplessly watch as more rain happens,” she said.
Campbell advises homeowners to talk to their insurance agent to see if they are eligible for a policy with a shorter waiting period.
In addition, flood policies may not cover damage from mudslides. There needs to be enough water so it is evident the damage was from flooding, she said.
James Ranch hitFarmers at James Ranch are also expecting large financial losses.
A lot of insurance companies don’t sign policies for smaller farms, so some farmers leasing land from the ranch could see significant losses, said Jenn Wheeling, who leases land at James Ranch to two farmers.
“The insurance companies don’t really deal with smaller farms,” Wheeling said. “When you’re a little farmer and you put your pennies together to make it happen and then Mother Nature comes, it’s tough. These guys are just hanging on by a thread. It’s a really hard lifestyle.”
Elaine Vidal is one of the farmers Wheeling leases land to. She is the owner of Mountain Belle Flower Farm and was harvesting flowers in her hoop house when floods hit.
“I looked up and saw there was a wall of water in there with me,” Vidal said. “I thought: I need to leave and run now.”
By the time she got in her car and out of harm’s way onto the highway, she turned around to watch her hoop house – in which she invested 95 percent of her earnings – collapse.
“It went down very quick,” Vidal said. “That mud and water was strong and very powerful.”
She hopes to salvage what she can for the season but is worried more floods could damage what little she has left. When she went to the scene to assess the damage Tuesday night, she broke down in tears.
“After I went to scope it out, after they opened the road, it was overwhelming,” Vidal said. “I couldn’t think or see straight. Seeing all the debris, oh my gosh. It was very overwhelming.”
Vidal leases her land from James Ranch, located on the east side of U.S. Highway 550. Though no buildings were damaged by the flood, the ranch is expecting huge economic losses from the flooding.
“It’s in the tens of thousands for sure,” said Dan James. “And every time they close the highway, we suffer losses because no one has access to us.”
The James family spent Wednesday assessing damage. Their wildlife fencing got leveled, so they are concerned about deer getting onto their property. However, they don’t want to begin cleaning up the damage because forecasts are calling for more rain.
“There’s going to be a real significant cleanup effort once the rain stops,” James said. “It’s just more of an assessment today. But they’re calling for more rain, so it doesn’t do a lot of good moving stuff around if the same thing is going to happen the following day.”
‘We literally lost everything’Brandi Bailey, owner of the Durango North KOA campground, was devastated by the first mudslides July 17. She lives in a mobile home on the campground that is currently filled with mud.
Bailey said she expects that the cost to fix the damages caused by the mudslides are in the seven figures. She said one of her cabins is in danger of falling into the Animas River at any moment.
“We lost everything,” she said. “We essentially lost our whole business. We literally lost everything. This is a huge, huge issue.”
Bailey was allowed to return to the campground, but every time it rains, she has to leave. Her family is staying in hotels until they can figure out their plan moving forward.
“It’s essentially not safe,” she said. “It’s a day-to-day, minute-to-minute situation for us.”
Bailey, who bought the campground in February, has not been satisfied with the response to the incident. She said the best assistance she has gotten is from a GoFundMe page that was created by her friends in California.
“There’s been no relief whatsoever,” she said. “With the impact these monsoons are having on major roads, something larger needs to happen with the state, the county and immediate relief. Attention needs to be paid to this.”