Flooding shuts down I-25

Downpour strands motorists for hours at Logan Street

By Michael Bedan, John C. Ensslin And Hector Gutierrez, Rocky Mountain News

September 14, 2002

Drought. Fire. Tornadoes. Hail. Rain. Mudslides.

Colorado is under a meteorological siege.

On Friday - floods.

A potent afternoon storm moved quickly across parts of Denver, turning Interstate 25 into a six-lane river on the second consecutive day the skies erupted.

Motorists caught beneath the Logan Street overpass said they never had a chance. They didn't drive into the water. The waters came to them.

The sun had been shining when Joe Mack, 42, of Denver, found himself stuck for about 20 minutes in T-REX midafternoon traffic on I-25.

"All of a sudden, I see water rising up the street and it just kept coming and coming. I tried to go in reverse, but I had a semi-tractor trailer right behind me," he said.

He took off his shoes and socks and scrunched up on the driver's seat of his 1990 Mitsubishi. Once the water reached the bottom of his windshield, he scooted up onto the roof of the vehicle and stared at the coffee-colored water swirling around him.

"At that point, I wasn't so much scared as frustrated," Mack said.

Later, after the flood subsided, Mack began bailing water out of the interior of his car with a big yellow "Bosselman Pump & Pantry" coffee mug that he found floating by. "It's a mess," he sighed.

A few feet away, Joseph Bolan's 1990 Honda gave up what sounded like a strangled gurgle as he tried to turn his engine on.

Bolan said he had been almost directly below the overpass when the waters enveloped his car. It got so deep, the vehicle began to float, so he got out and pushed it backward.

The 29-year-old Denver man said a woman in another car was screaming. He said his Marine instincts kicked in, so he let her climb on his shoulders and gave her a piggyback ride to higher ground.

Above him on the overpass, longtime neighborhood residents Art and Cathy Bowman took the long view.

"This isn't T-REX's fault," Art Bowman said. "This has been this way for years."

They stood looking from the overpass as some youngsters on what used to be the bank of the highway pushed piles of dirt into a growing mud puddle.

Bowman talked about the 12-foot pipe that is eventually supposed to divert the waters from Logan when T-REX is done.

"With the way the drought has been, we almost got through the whole summer without this," Bowman said. "They'll take care of it. It's going to work."

Nothing was working Friday. The highway was closed in both directions for about three hours, along with numerous other intersection closings. On Broadway and Iowa, Foxy's Antiques, no stranger to floods, battled water yet again.

"We were able to deflect the water. We were able to fight it and keep it out," store owner Foxy Hawpe said. "But people driving through on the street go so fast. They see we are trying to keep it out and then they speed through. That's a problem.

"Buses are the worst, they think it's funny."

Hawpe said the store has been flooding during heavy rains for 26 years and Friday's high water is far from the worst they have seen.

"We can't get flood insurance because that would cost us as much as the rent," she said.

Back on the freeway, officials eventually removed a barricade from the center of the highway to allow traffic to turn and head south on I-25. By about 6:30 p.m., traffic was moving in both directions.

"This is a true Friday the 13th," said Gwen Dragoo, who covered herself with a blanket as she waited for her Budget rental Ford Focus to be towed from the waist-high water.

Dragoo and her friend, Shirley Farland, both of Belleview, Wash., were traveling south on I-25 and heading to Highlands Ranch when they noticed the runoff water and mud.

Traffic slowed considerably and they thought maybe there had been an accident up ahead.

"There was no water on the road," Dragoo said.

When the traffic stopped, Dragoo turned to her right and saw the water and mud gushing onto the highway from the embankment. About the same time, the water on the highway ahead of them suddenly began to rise.

"When I'm sitting in the car and I feel the water going up my leg that's when I said, 'I'm out of here,' " Dragoo said.

She waded through the water to the side of the highway. Farland sat on top of the vehicle with her feet resting on the ledge of the passenger's side window.

A firefighter was able to reach Farland minutes later. Farland threw her arms around the firefighter's neck and she was carried to safety.

"You're so helpless. You just can't do anything," said Farland, who was in Denver to attend her son's wedding on Sunday.

When Mary Brown left her job, the rain was coming down hard. But she knew her ride to her Parker home started off on a bad note when a young motorist drove through a large puddle and splashed her and her car with water.

"I was already upset," Brown said.

Brown was a couple of car lengths ahead of Dragoo and Farland when the southbound traffic stopped for about 10 minutes. Then she saw the flooding ahead get closer and closer to her Chrysler 300-M. Then the water started flooding the inside of her vehicle.

"I was thinking, 'My car! My car!' " Brown said tearfully as she sat in a construction truck. "My car is my baby. It's the nicest car I've ever had."

Brown also was forced to climb on top of her Chrysler.

"I was just sitting on top of it, freaking out and saying, 'What's going on?' " Brown said.

A firefighter reached her and carried her to safety but not before stumbling and both fell in the water.

Yellow Cab driver Asad Mohamed, 29, was taking two passengers to Centennial Airport when the water onslaught headed his way.

"The water started to rise and rise and rise," Mohamed said. When the water got inside, he said his two passengers removed some of their clothing and jumped out of the taxi.

Mohamed was unable to open the door because of the pressure of the water.

He lowered his driver's side window and climbed out to safety.

"The passengers left their luggage behind," Mohamed said.