(Senate - September 17, 2013)

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[Pages S6487-S6489]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office []

                            COLORADO FLOODS

  Mr. UDALL of Colorado. Madam President, I thank the Chair for the 
recognition, and I rise today to talk about the unimaginable losses all 
of us in Colorado have experienced over this last week.
  While much of the Nation's attention was focused on Syria or on the 
activities here in Washington, those of us in Colorado watched rain 
fall for 1, 2, 3, and 4 days straight with no end in sight. Creeks, 
such as the one that runs behind my home in Eldorado Springs, swelled. 
Culverts, such as those in Commerce City, quickly filled with rushing 
water. Rivers, such as the Big Thompson near the beautiful town of 
Estes Park, turned into walls of water that threatened entire 
communities. From the foothills of the Rocky Mountains to the Eastern 
Plains, rivers overtopped their banks--crumbling highways, drowning 
family homes, and transforming entire farms into lakes.
  Many Americans have seen photos like this one that show the 
widespread and indiscriminate path of the floodwaters. In some places 
even today entire communities are still underwater, with families and 
homes uprooted by the ferocious strength of nature.
  We say that water makes the West possible, but this past week Mother 
Nature gave us rain for 5 straight days, and now at least eight people 
are dead and hundreds are still missing or in need of rescue. We pray 
that we find every single one of those missing persons alive and in 
good health.
  As of today the President has issued major disaster declarations for 
4 counties and 15 counties are in a state of emergency, where 
lifesaving rescue efforts are still underway. In these areas active 
search and rescue operations are being conducted 24 hours a day by the 
Colorado National Guard, local police and fire departments, and rescue 
teams flown in from across the State and around our country. At least 
19,000 homes have been damaged or destroyed. Several towns, such as 
Jamestown and Lyons, have been washed out and lack even the most basic 
public services. The town of Estes Park, which I mentioned earlier, the 
gateway community to the Rocky Mountain National Park, has literally 
been cut off from the rest of the State because the two major highways 
to it have literally been destroyed and the only access road will soon 
be closed for the winter.
  There are some wonderful, inspiring stories that have come out of 
these events that we couldn't possibly comprehend or predict, and I 
want to start with the National Guard.
  The National Guard has been amazing, doing outstanding work and 
rescuing thousands of Coloradans who have been affected by this 
disaster. They tell me that more people have been rescued by air in the 
past few days than at any time since the devastation we saw with 
Hurricane Katrina.
  We saw--Senator Bennet, who is here with me, and I, along with the 
Governor and many members of our congressional delegation--the 
devastation from these floods with our own eyes. Just a few days ago--
Saturday, to be exact--Senator Bennet and I joined others to fly over 
flooded areas in Boulder and Larimer Counties with a Colorado National 
Guard unit. At one point, as we circled over an area, we spotted a 
couple of families waving for help. We were able to land and be a part 
of the effort that brought them out of one of those isolated 
situations. That experience impressed upon me the very human side of 
this disaster.
  As we all know, behind these graphic images being shown on TV are the 
lives of thousands of Colorado families, some forever changed. While so 
much of this disaster has taken on the grand proportions of a historic 
disaster, those whose lives have been affected by this flood have 
endured it on a very personal scale. I think this photograph says it 
all. It is the family who has to dig through mud and debris just to get 
into their kitchen or the older couple who returns from the evacuation 
to see their lifelong home completely destroyed or even, as I mentioned 
earlier, the extended family members who sit by the phone waiting for a 
call from a missing aunt, a niece, a child, or a friend. These are the 
very human faces of this tragedy.
  This is a tragedy from which we can't recover alone. The outpouring 
of support from our friends and neighbors has been crucial to early 
response efforts, and this generosity will only strengthen us as we 
begin to recover. After all, there is no ``i'' in Colorado, and it is 
this strong sense of community which will allow us to recover from this 
disaster and to rebuild stronger and more resolute than before.
  We are also going to rely on the full support of our Federal 
partners. I have long supported disaster aid, such as during Hurricanes 
Sandy and Katrina, as well as when we have experienced other countless 
acts of God, and now it is time for us to come together as one Nation 
and rebuild.
  This will not be fast. It will not be easy. Many of our narrow 
mountain highways that had been carefully built through steep canyons 
have been destroyed and washed downstream. These highways, such as 
those in the Presiding Officer's State, are the economic basis for our 
Mountain State. Without them, trade and movement of any kind comes to a 
complete standstill.
  I took this photo as we flew over what looks to be a river, but it 
actually used to be a stretch of U.S. Highway 34 outside of Estes Park. 

[[Page S6488]]

major east-west highway is gone. In looking at this photograph and 
seeing what Senator Bennet and I and many others saw on Saturday, it is 
one of those ``oh my God'' moments over and over again. Mother Nature 
has literally rewritten the map. This isn't an isolated incident in 
this canyon. There are dozens of these washouts, as we see here.
  That is why I am going to fight in this Congress for full Federal 
support for recovery and rebuilding efforts. I am confident the support 
will be there, just as it was for so many others in their time of need.
  In the meantime, individuals and businesses that are still dislocated 
or figuring out the extent of their damage must take action. So I want 
to share some advice I have received from FEMA and the other agencies 
  If your home was damaged because of the storms of the past week, 
please go to to view Federal assistance that may 
be available to you and to submit your claim. So that is right here-- I urge everybody to go there and enroll, if you 
will, on that Web site.
  If you operate a small business that has been affected by the 
flooding, you should register your claim with the Small Business 
Administration by going to Again, if you have a 
small business and you have been affected by the flooding, go to this 
Web site:
  If you are just looking, as so many people are, for a way to help the 
people suffering from this disaster, go to, where 
the State of Colorado has pooled resources to assist those in need.
  Madam President, as I conclude, again I want to reference that in so 
many ways the history of our part of the Nation--the West--has been a 
story of water, but now that very resource that is our lifeblood is 
writing a new chapter in our history as it runs uncontrolled over every 
road, field, and structure in its path. But we are Colorado tough and 
we are rugged cooperators, and our spirit of strengthened independence 
has seen us through the most trying of times. It will see us through 
these days of loss and hardship.
  I thank the Chair for her attention and her support, and I yield the 
floor to my colleague and friend Michael Bennet.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Colorado.
  Mr. BENNET. Madam President, I would like to thank my colleague Mark 
Udall for summarizing so well what we are facing out in Colorado. I 
thought I would share a few of my thoughts too.
  As Senator Udall said, our State is in the midst of unprecedented 
flooding that has wiped out entire communities in over a dozen counties 
across Colorado. Last week rain began to fall across our State, across 
the Colorado Front Range, and it didn't let up. A lot of reports have 
termed this historic, but to get your head around the scale and scope 
of the damage it is important to express what that means in hard 
  In the course of 1 week, 21 inches of rain fell in parts of Boulder, 
including over 9 inches on September 12 alone. The previous alltime 
high for a single day in Boulder was 4.8 inches in 1919, and they have 
kept records since 1893. The average annual precipitation in Denver is 
14.9 inches--for an entire year. On September 12, 11.5 inches poured 
down in Aurora. Just to give a sense of the order of magnitude, that is 
almost as much rain as it typically gets in 1 year--in 1 day. It was 
the same story all across the Colorado Front Range. The result was 
flooding, destruction, and tragedy on an unprecedented and unmanageable 
  Based on the latest estimates, over 17,000 homes were seriously 
damaged, over 1,500 homes were completely destroyed, and over 2,300 
agricultural properties were flooded. In just Larimer County alone, 
they estimate that 200 businesses were destroyed and 500 more were 
damaged. At least 30 highway bridges were destroyed, and at least 20 
more were seriously damaged. Hundreds of miles--hundreds of miles--of 
major roads have been washed away, as Senator Udall said. The 
floodwaters consumed more than 2,000 square miles across 15 counties 
along the Front Range--an area about twice the size of Rhode Island. 
Because the rain is just finally letting up and emergency officials are 
only beginning to measure the magnitude of this rain, these numbers 
could easily go up, and they could go up a lot.
  As recently as yesterday morning, 4 days after the flooding reached a 
crisis, over 1,000 Coloradans are still stranded and awaiting 
evacuation, with hundreds still not accounted for. Tens of thousands 
were forced to evacuate, and many had to abandon their homes within 
minutes, grabbing whatever they could carry and wading through rising 
waters to seek shelter and safety. Most tragic of all, eight Coloradans 
are either confirmed or presumed dead as a result of this storm. Those 
are just some of the numbers and a taste of the pain this disaster has 
brought to cities and counties across our State.
  As Senator Udall mentioned, over the weekend I joined him and 
Governor Hickenlooper and others on a helicopter tour of the damage, 
and from the air the scope and scale of the destruction boggles the 
mind. Here is some of what we saw. These photos were taken from the 
Denver Post and other media.
  Here is an image showing dozens of vehicles flooded in Greeley, CO.
  Here is a home and a car stranded after a flash flood destroyed a 
bridge near Golden. Dozens of other bridges also collapsed.
  This is a picture of the Big Thompson River washing out the Loveland 
Water Storage Reservoir.
  In this picture, young Casey Roy, 9 years old, is looking through a 
window into her family's basement under 3 feet of water. And there are 
thousands of families in Colorado just like Casey's.
  Finally, this image shows the Big Thompson River overflowing and 
tearing apart Colorado U.S. 34 in the Big Thompson Canyon--another 
example of the damage to the infrastructure across our State.
  Madam President, how much time is remaining?
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. No time is remaining.
  Mr. BENNET. I ask unanimous consent for an additional 5 minutes.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
  Mr. BENNET. I won't go on too much longer, but in addition to showing 
these images, I do want to pass along a few of the stories we are 
hearing from Colorado families from the past week.
  In Jamestown, a small mountain community of just a few hundred people 
in the mountains northwest of Boulder, a mudslide destroyed the home of 
72-year-old Joey Howlett, a pillar of that community. It killed him. In 
the hours that followed, Jamestown residents pooled their resources so 
that no one was without food or shelter. The town, isolated from 
outside assistance, was literally split in two by the flood, so they 
rigged a pulley system to carry food, medicine, and supplies across the 
rising waters to fellow townspeople.
  Just outside of Lyons, CO, four adults, three children, and two dogs 
had to scramble up hills and across ledges with no trails to escape the 
floodwater. At one point they literally had to make a human chain 
across waist-deep water so nobody would be carried away. These are a 
few of the thousands of stories from across our State.
  We know these floods are devastating. We know the loss some Colorado 
families feel today is beyond words. We know some have lost loved ones, 
and many others have lost homes and businesses that took them decades 
to build. But stories such as this remind me Coloradans are resilient, 
that the worst disasters often bring out the best in our neighbors. All 
across the State we have seen Coloradans of different ages, 
backgrounds, and beliefs pull together and help each other get through 
this massive storm. We saw real heroism a thousand times a day as first 
responders and National Guardsmen risked life and limb to carry the 
young, the old, the vulnerable, and the injured to safety.
  I close by saying thank you to the FEMA Administrator for his prompt 
response to our request to declare a disaster. He would not let me 
leave the floor without saying that if you are in Boulder, Weld, Adams, 
or Larimer Counties, and impacted, you can go to

[[Page S6489]] or call 1-800-621-FEMA to register for disaster 
  As we move from rescue to recovery, frustration and enormous 
challenges lie ahead. We know in the coming weeks, months, and even 
years Colorado is going to face a lot of rebuilding, and we will rise 
to this occasion. We will build it back better than it was before it 
was destroyed. We are going to fight every day for Colorado families, 
many of whom have lost everything, to make sure they are getting the 
support they need.