Flood survivor Dan Waggoner watched the Big Thompson River flood his neighborhood in Drake

DRAKE, Colo. - Dan Waggoner says the two days he spent stranded with neighbors in the Town of Drake along the Big Thompson River brought him closer to his neighbors, despite the profound sadness of the disaster.

Waggoner says a volunteer firefighter knocked on his door to announce the evacuation Thursday morning, but it was already impossible to get out of town.

"By that time it was too late to get out because Highway 34 was washed out down below and up above (Drake)," he said.

"We had, really, nowhere to go so we started making preparations."

As Waggoner tells it, he and neighbors spent a day working to help each other prepare for the coming flood. They turned off propane tanks, moved valuables upstairs and gathered themselves in a neighbors' home on higher ground.

"We tried to rest that night, but we were up regularly."

From their vantage point, Waggoner could see his own home and the homes of two neighbors who lived upriver from him. The house farthest up river was the first to be flooded

"At about 3:20 the water reached up to the window level and we started seeing the curtains move inside," Waggoner said. "The house was taken in an instant."

Those neighbors had thought their possessions would be safe upstairs, but the rushing waters "turned it into to toothpicks in a matter of seconds."

Waggoner and his neighbors spent hours listening to the thundering sounds of rocks being pushed around by the raging Big Thompson River. They watched it approach the next home, and eventually wash it away around 9:20 a.m.

"My house was next in line for that," Waggoner feared, but never actually saw it happen.

He had a chance to get some things out Friday morning before conditions became unsafe.

Meanwhile, debris from a decimated RV park was washed away and became stuck under a bridge. It blocked part of the swollen river and sent the water up onto Highway 43.

"So we worked to divert the north fork so it didn't come down and erode the whole highway and all the houses on either side," Waggoner said. "So we diverted it back with truck tires, anything we could find that would divert it."

Telephone poles caused another problem for the residents trapped in Drake. When one became wrapped in debris and toppled over, it would pull others down like dominos.

Waggoner described the townspeople cutting the dead wires to stop more poles from falling.

"It was an amazing thing to experience, there's no doubt about that," he said.

By Saturday morning, helicopters were flying.

The first to land in Waggoner's neighborhood belonged to CenturyLink, he said. It picked up an older woman who needed medical attention.

Later, a Boeing CH-47 Chinook landed to rescue the other neighbors. Twelve people climbed aboard, with three dogs and two cats.

Two others, both volunteer firefighters, elected to stay behind to help in any way they could.

"It's really amazing the way the community pulled together and helps each other out and really builds a relationship with each other that we didn't have before the disaster," a tearful Waggoner said.

"It was a joy to be with people through a catastrophe."

Waggoner suspects he lost his home, but doesn't know for certain.

Print this article Back to Top