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Rivers swell across state

Louise Suazo walks through the high water at her trailer park near Hesperus, Colo., Wednesday, May 25, 2005. The La Plata River, swollen from spring runoff, changed its course during the night flowing through the Pinewind Trailer Park. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)
AP | AP

HESPERUS ” A river in southwestern Colorado spilled over its banks Wednesday, sending fast-moving water into a trailer park and forcing families to scramble through thigh-deep water to protect their belongings.

“They told us we might have to evacuate,” Louise Suazo said as water from the swollen La Plata River rushed under her home. “It was scary. It sounded like we were sleeping in the river.”

Several rivers in southwestern Colorado are cresting this week after days of hot weather and melting snow. Water levels are expected to remain high through the Memorial Day weekend, National Weather Service hydrologist Brian Avery said.

“It’s not over and it won’t be over until at least next week,” he said.

In Hesperus, 240 miles southwest of Denver, dead trees and other debris forced the La Plata over its banks and into the Pinewind Trailer Park. Residents slogged through the water to dig diversion ditches, hoping to steer the water away from propane tanks and electrical wiring. Some pulled siding off their homes to allow water to flow under their trailers.

Six of the homes either were surrounded by water or had water flowing beneath them. Gas service was turned off, and most residents had lost phone service.

Trailer park owner Bill Westendorff said one family who lived nearest to the river was filling sandbags. Longtime residents said they had never seen the La Plata that high before.

“There’s so much debris, the water can’t get back into the river,” Westendorff said.

Minor flooding of pastures and county roads was reported in Routt and Moffat counties, in northwestern Colorado, but authorities there said that was due to typical spring runoff. Avery said most major flooding has been in southwest Colorado, where the water is reportedly the highest it’s been since the regional drought began about six years ago.

Avery said authorities were concerned boaters, rafters and kayakers would be drawn to high rivers, despite dangerous and icy conditions.

“We’re trying to encourage people to be very safe or just avoid the water altogether,” Avery said.

In neighboring Utah, a missing elderly woman was found dead Wednesday in an ordinarily moderate creek sent rushing by melting snowpack, the first death attributed to the spring runoff floods.

Salt Lake County sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Paul Jaroscak said police were notified Tuesday night that 76-year-old Cynthia Lark was missing. Lark has dementia and was thought to have wandered away.

Officers discovered her in nearby Mill Creek about half a mile downstream early Wednesday, Jaroscak said. Police said the woman wasn’t very stable on her feet, and typically tried to avoid the creek because she feared it. However, they believe Lark might have approached it looking for a missing cat and gotten swept away.


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