Even as air rescues wind down in Colorado, some refuse to leave

Residents who stay behind could face months of isolation due to flooding



BOULDER, Colo. — In the days right after floodwaters rushed through the Rocky Mountain foothills, the helicopter crews that lifted stranded people to safety were greeted like heroes. Nearly a week later, they are often being waved away by stubborn mountain residents who refuse to abandon their homes.

Caleb Liesveld hiked several miles into tiny Pinewood Springs, midway between Longmont and Estes Park, to try to convince his parents to leave. His mother relented, but his father refused. The elder Liesveld was determined to use heavy equipment from the family’s granite quarry to resurrect an old stagecoach road that would let residents get vehicles in and out.

“He wants to be productive, and I don’t think he’d really know what to do with himself off the mountain,” Caleb Liesveld said Tuesday.

In nearby Lyons, a number of residents were working together to clean rotting food out of abandoned restaurant refrigerators.

“We are a community. We all want to stay here and help,” Molly Morton, who also declined rescuers’ advice to leave or face months of isolation, said Tuesday in a phone interview.

Morton, 44, lives with her boyfriend on a hill overlooking Lyons. They have well water and a septic field, and Monday night she got her power back, allowing her to restart her cleaning business.

Several residents of Lyons moved up the hill to camp on her property in tents, bringing suitcases and coolers filled with as much food as they could salvage from refrigerators and freezers. One of the men had been given house keys by many people who did evacuate, and he had been going around to empty refrigerators and freezers to throw away food before it spoils. He’s also been on the lookout for anyone who might try to take advantage of all those empty houses.

By Tuesday, military helicopters had flown nearly 2,400 people and more than 850 pets to safety in what officials said was likely the largest such airlift since Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in 2005.

The pace of rescues was beginning to taper off. Crews were shifting from emergency airlifts to more systematic searches of flooded areas. Green tags and flags, bold enough to be seen from the air, were being used to mark properties that had already been checked.

The reluctance to leave was evident during an aerial tour for media Tuesday arranged by the National Guard. As a Blackhawk chopper churned over Jamestown, where slabs of highway were stacked in murky water, two Guardsmen leaned out the open sides and waved to people below. Most waved back and went on shoveling rocks from their driveways or gazing at the debris piled in their yards.

“These people are hardy,” Niko King, a firefighter from Sacramento who serves as a FEMA spokesman and helped out on Katrina, said Tuesday.