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Rebuilding After the Flood


Huy Lam digs his shovel into the deep sand, and excavates the buried playhouse and slide in what used to be his family’s back yard. Twenty feet away, the creek that once flowed past one side of their house now runs swiftly down the other.  When Left Hand Creek shifted, it dumped hundreds of tons of sand and rock all over his property and it tore away a good chunk of the house’s bottom. Walk into the dilapidated area that once was his office, and the four walls and windows are still there. In place of their floor, now, is the mellow creek—a continuing reminder of Boulder County’s 100-year flood.

“I’m not sure what comes next,” Lam says between shoveling scoops of sand. “It all depends on what the county decides to do with the creek.” The night of the flood, Lams wife Jackie packed up the kids at midnight and relocated to a friend’s house on higher ground. Lam stayed behind to keep an eye on the house, but at 2 a.m. realized he had to evacuate as well, and leave their home to chance.

It was almost too late.  His car got trapped in the driveway and he had to hike out through the flood in the dark.  Water, mud and rocks buried the car before dawn.

Most of us personally know someone who shares the Lams’ story: Loss of possessions, dislocation from their home, routine and neighborhood.  Amidst all the financial hardship, structural damage and dizzying insurance bureaucracy, the most common question being asked is, What happens next?

But for the Lam family there’s a silver lining. Like many families affected by the flood, they were the recipient of generous help from friends in Boulder and Longmont.

While many of us replaced the basement carpet and got on with our lives, there are hundreds of Boulder homeowners, like the Lams, who are still in the thick of rebuilding their lives. Immediately following the flood, both Boulder and the county established emergency relief programs. Hundreds of people made their way to websites like bouldercounty.org/flood, and one-stop shopping centers designed to help people get information and back up on their feet as quickly as possible. The county still runs a walk-in center out of Rembrandt Yard (13th & Spruce).

For those whose homes sustained major damage, the main question is: “Can I rebuild?” There’s no simple answer, but here are a few critical points to consider: First, it depends on where you are.  Longmont, Boulder and the county have different rules of their own.

While requirements by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) govern everything, each municipality has a different process and some municipalities have elected to exceed the rule minimums, both with a tangled mess of specifics better explained by a homeowner’s architect or contractor. The reason that we as a community comply with FEMA requirements is to have access to flood insurance at the best rates, and federal assistance in the case of disaster.

 Katie Knapp, engineering project manager for the City of Boulder, has learned something from the 500-year event: “Flood waters,” she says, “don’t stop at the limits of the floodplain.”

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