LOVELAND - Below a canyon highway pummeled to impassibility with car-sized boulders and flooding lies a city preparing for disaster.
"We believe the incident is going to escalate," Loveland Fire Chief Randy Mirowski said at an emergency City Council meeting Thursday evening, after which his agency assumed command of the "2013 Loveland Flood."
As the city's ditches, culverts and detention ponds fill with water, city spokesman Tom Hacker said the city is running out of storage, especially if as much rain falls as expected. City departments are beefing up staff and planning shifts as rains are predicted to continue through the weekend.
"We're into something here for the long haul," Hacker said.
Flooding caused eight Loveland road segments to close south of U.S. Highway 34, and more closures could follow on Friday. City Public Works Director Keith Reester said the city's contractor for traffic-control devices and barriers ran out of supplies, and the city is using a second contractor.
U.S. 34 through Big Thompson Canyon to Estes Park is closed in both directions, and state traffic officials were still waiting Thursday evening for conditions to lighten so they could get access to assess the damage.
"Areas are still flooding pretty heavily," CDOT spokeswoman Ashley Mohr said at about 6:45 p.m. "It's pretty severe."
Mud-and-rock slides have been observed, Apple Valley bridge could be collapsed and other segments of U.S. 34 could be collapsed, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation.
Reester said he's opened his home to some of his department's employees stranded from their homes and families by the highway's closure. About 1,000 evacuation notices were sent out for people at risk for floods in areas along the canyon and near Loveland.
An evacuation center on 800 South Taft Hill Road in Loveland can serve about 100 people and was reported to be about half full Thursday evening. Another center is planned to open if needed, city officials said.
Mirowski said some people were trapped in the water Thursday, and a ladder was used to pull them out.
As storms brought more flood damage across Colorado's Front Range, three people outside Larimer County were reported dead, and the town of Lyons was surrounded by water.
Mohr said Estes Park residents who want out of town can take U.S. 34 west into Grand County over Trail Ridge Road, but that's a long, long way to get back to Fort Collins or Loveland.
Numerous Estes Park residents lost phone service because a cell tower was flooded and lines were down, officials at the meeting said. They were communicating with the town via ham radio.