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Associated Press
Officials investigate the scene of a road collapse north of Denver on Thursday that sent three vehicles into the water after flash flooding.

Colorado floods cut off mountain towns; 3 dead

– Heavy rain sent walls of water crashing down mountainsides Thursday in Colorado, cutting off remote towns, forcing the state’s largest university to close and leaving at least three people dead across a rugged landscape that included areas blackened by recent wildfires.

After a rainy week, up to 8 more inches fell in an area spanning from the Wyoming border south to the foothills west of Denver. Flooding extended all along the Front Range mountains and into some cities, including Colorado Springs, Denver, Fort Collins, Greeley, Aurora and Boulder.

Numerous roads and highways were washed out or made impassable by floods. Floodwaters poured into homes, and at least a few buildings collapsed in the torrent.

Boulder County appeared to be hardest hit. Sheriff Joe Pelle said the town of Lyons was completely cut off because of flooded roads, and residents were huddling together on higher ground. Although everyone was believed to be safe, the deluge was expected to continue into today.

“It is not an ordinary disaster,” Pelle said. “All the preparation in the world ... it can’t put people up those canyons while these walls of water are coming down.”

Jason Stillman, 37, said he and his fiancée were forced to evacuate their home in Lyons about 3 a.m. after a nearby river began to overflow into the street.

“From what I could tell, my house is sitting in Class 3 rapids,” he said. When he returns, “it’s going to be a sobering experience.”

By mid-afternoon, some high-clearance vehicles were on their way to the town, where the Red Cross said about 200 people sought shelter in an elementary school. National Guard rescue helicopters were grounded by fog and low visibility.

To the north, residents along the Big Thompson Canyon in Larimer County, scene of the deadliest flash flood in state history, were also evacuated. The Big Thompson River flooded in 1976 after about a foot of rain fell in just four hours, killing 144 people.

At the University of Colorado, about 400 students in a dorm were evacuated, and administrators canceled classes at least through today. About a quarter of the school’s buildings have some kind of water damage.

One person was killed when a structure collapsed in the tiny town of Jamestown northwest of Boulder. Another person drowned in northern Boulder, authorities said.

Weather service meteorologist Bob Kleyla said a 20-foot wall of water was reported in Left Hand Canyon north of Boulder, and a firefighter radioed he was trapped in a tree. He said rescuers were trying to get through but were blocked by debris.

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