1 dead, several missing in flooding, mudslide in Manitou Springs

3 remain unaccounted for

MANTOU SPRINGS, Colo. - Authorities have recovered a Teller County man's body from debris left by a fast-moving mudslide that swept through Manitou Springs and Highway 24.

Three people remain unaccounted for, officials said Saturday.

The El Paso County Sheriff's Office said the body of 53-year-old John Collins was not inside a vehicle and much of the body was buried beneath a significant amount of debris on the westbound lanes of U.S. Highway 24. It was not clear if Collins got out of his vehicle by choice or if the rapidly rushing water and debris forced him from his vehicle. 

According to the El Paso County Coroner’s Office, the cause of Collins’ death is believed to be drowning.

Several other people are reported to be still missing in the flood, according to Manitou Springs police chief Joe Ribeiro, who spoke at a 10:30 a.m. news conference.

The three missing are  year old Juston Travis. A man named Steve, who lives in a house on Narrows Road and has not been heard from since the flood and a woman seen clinging to a tree Friday evening.  She was wearing a black blouse, tan pants and has blonde hair.

"She was seen near the creek at one moment hanging in a tree and then not seen the next," Ribeiro said.

The mudslide closed the highway and flash flooding stranded vehicles in high water Friday night as rain fell west of Colorado Springs in an area burned by the Waldo Canyon wildfire last year.

Vehicles and homes in Manitou Springs were also damaged by severe flooding, but no damage estimate has yet been released.  At least one home was destroyed in the flood waters.

"Some folks have lost their homes. There's been some total destruction on a few homes and some significant damage to others," said Ribeiro, who did not have an accurate assessment of the damage at Saturday morning's news conference.

Eight people spent the night at the emergency Red Cross shelter set up last night.

Manitou Springs firefighters were called out at about 5:45 p.m., when two to three feet of water came rushing down Williams Canyon, said Dave Hunting, a fire department spokesman.

Torrential rain fell in the nearby Waldo Canyon Burn Area.

The National Weather Service says about 1.3 inches of rain fell in the area, which is vulnerable to flash floods because the scorched soils don't absorb as much water as they normally would.

More rain is forecast for Saturday.

Highway 24 remained closed but would likely open to one lane of traffic in each direction Saturday afternoon.

Mental health professionals will be available at the Red Cross Shelter in Manitou Springs on Saturday. People who plan to clean up from flood damage are urged to wear protective gear.

The mayor of Manitou Springs, Marc Snyder,  said the city "remains open for business," inviting people to come up Saturday and Sunday. He said 90 percent of businesses in the city are unaffected by the flood. 

"If you do come out to visit us today and tomorrow, please be aware and stay out of the way of people doing their jobs" to clean up," he said.

Those that were hit by the flood are in shock.

"We're looking at complete destruction in our lower level," said Steve Kudron, owner of Quacker Gift Shop. "It was a shock this morning coming.  We had no idea it would be this bad"

The police chief said a lot of "spontaneous volunteers" were showing up to help but officials "are not able to manage them today."   He said there might be work for them to do on Sunday and he would let the public know if additional help is needed.

One person who refused a police officer's directions was arrested, Ribeiro said.

Friday's deluge was the third flood to hit Manitou this year and the fourth flash flood in the area since the devastating June 2012 Waldo Canyon wildfire, which burned 347 homes, killed two people and burned more than 18,000 acres.