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A day of destruction 

Scary scenario in Manitou

Editor's note: For one of her classes, Eve Gruntfest, a geography professor at UCCS, created this timeline of what could be expected in the case of a massive flood in Manitou Springs, just west of Colorado Springs.

The day of the scenario is typical for Colorado's Front Range. The weather forecast calls for a chance of afternoon thunderstorms. An accumulation of cumulonimbus clouds over Manitou Springs and the entire Pikes Peak region is not sufficient cause for alarm to the residents and tourists of Manitou Springs on this warm summer afternoon.

At 3:30 p.m. the sky has blackened, and rain is beginning to fall in the mountains.

By 4:20 p.m. the satellite detection system has alerted the National Weather Service Office in Pueblo of the situation. It issues a flash flood watch for all of El Paso County.

By 4:25 p.m. the local TV and radio stations relay the flash flood watch to the broadcast region.

By 4:30 p.m. the storm has unleashed its full fury over the Fountain and Ruxton Creek drainage basins. The heavy rain causes many picnickers and campers in higher elevations to seek shelter or head for home.

By 4:50 p.m. the Alert System -- an integrated network of stream and rain gauges in the drainage basin -- is reporting heavy rainfall to the El Paso County Office of Emergency Management.

By 5 p.m. the thunderstorm has intensified and shows no sign of moving out of the area. The town of Cascade reports 3 inches of rain in the last half hour. Flooding is beginning to occur on the east side of Manitou Springs.

By 5:10 p.m. the Office of Emergency Management calls the Manitou Springs Police Department to start to evacuate people in the low-lying areas near Fountain Creek.

By 5:25 p.m. the National Weather Service in Pueblo issues a flash flood warning.

Alarms sound across the city of Manitou Springs, alerting people that it is time to get to higher ground.

The police department sends out two police cars to warn people of the impending flood of Fountain Creek.

The sky over Manitou Springs has become incredibly black, interrupted only by sudden flashes of lightning. The intense rainfall is causing numerous rock and mud slides along the canyon walls and highway, trapping those people trying to escape by car. Flooding already has cut off the upper junction of Highway 24 and Manitou Avenue. Several cars are floating along the roads in low-lying areas.

By 5:35 p.m. many residents are walking up the streets toward the rocks that surround parts of downtown Manitou Springs. Others are debating whether or not to join their fellow citizens or to wait out the storm.

By 5:45 p.m. all the residents of the El Paso Apartments must be evacuated to Manitou Springs High School.

The first crashing wave of floodwaters hits Manitou Springs at the upper reach of Ruxton Creek. Because the channel is lined with concrete in its upper stretch, its flow is restricted and its velocity is increased.

The portion of the channel beneath the Iron Springs Chateau is unable to retain the flow, sending a 6-foot surge of water through the main dining room. Diners are caught completely off-guard by the flood.

Seventeen lives are lost.

A crashing wall of water hits the western part of downtown Manitou. The tourists and residents who remain behind are swept away with the wall of water.

Nineteen more people are killed.

Power shortages occur as power lines are torn down. Cars, trees and animals fill the advancing waters. Gas and electric lines are destroyed, causing power outages and small explosions. Cottages and motels once found along the lowland floodplain are washed out, many dislocated from their foundations.

By 6 p.m. Colorado Springs officials are having difficulty entering Manitou Springs due to the severe flooding. Flood water in the overbanks is exceeding 10 feet in depth. By now, most residents and workers at City Hall have evacuated.

Standing on higher ground, people are trying to take pictures and record the flood with their video cameras.

By 6:30 p.m. the rain has ended, and the floodwaters begin to subside. People who had climbed to safety now are finding a warm cup of coffee and a blanket from the Red Cross. Helicopters and flashing lights surround the surreal landscape. Survivors are crying over the loss of their loved ones and homes. Forty-seven people died in the flood, with scores more still missing.

  • Scary scenario in Manitou

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