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Utah National Guard helps Colorado cities recover from flood damage

By Keith McCord | Posted - Oct. 11, 2013 at 8:14 p.m.

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Colorado — Members of Utah's National Guard are hard at work in Colorado, trying to get several major highways reopened that were wiped out by recent floods. People living in those areas said just getting to a grocery store is a challenge.

Three major highways connect large cities with Rocky Mountain National Park: U.S highway 34 is about 25 miles long and 85 percent is gone; Highway 7 between Estes Park and the town of Lyons is 50 percent demolished; and Highway 36 that connects Estes Park to Boulder is 40 percent gone.

"It was a pretty incredible amount of damage," Lt. Col. Mike Turley said. "When we first saw some of it, we thought it was going to take months."

Crews said it is a race against the coming winter weather to try and get a temporary road in place so residents throughout the mountains of Northern Colorado can move around more easily.

About 130 members of the Utah National Guard's 1457th Engineer Battalion have been on the ground for the past week, using dozens of pieces of heavy equipment, moving hundreds of tons of dirt and rock, and trying to mitigate damage.

"It's 17 miles of roadway that have been broken effectively into 17 pieces," Turley said. "Some are more serious than others. There are complete washouts where the road has been scoured off the face of the earth and pushed down the river."

Crews are working sunup to sundown shifts to bring the roadbed back its prior condition before the floods. In some spots, where the river redirected itself, they've re-dug the channel and put it back.

They said it's a massive task, but the road is beginning to take shape.

"We've made it passable, so in an emergency we could get traffic through, but it's definitely not up to what we would call public use standards," Turley said.

The guard members left for Colorado about a week later than originally planned due to the federal government shutdown. Because of the time pressures, Governor's John Hickenlooper and Gary Herbert worked together and agreed to provide state money to get the mission started.

"Certainly the people of Colorado are going to get some great benefits," Lt. Col. Hank McIntire said. "But also you have some soldiers who are sitting at home, not getting a paycheck because of the shutdown. Now they're on active duty orders so they can go do the mission, get a paycheck, get some training and help the folks from Colorado. It's a win-win."

The Utah Guard members will spend about three weeks in Colorado before other units from around the country rotate in. Colorado has set a deadline for Dec. 1 to get all the roads open.


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