Day 1: Boulder County and each of its nine municipalities are set to have spent roughly a billion dollars once the recovery is complete.
Day 2: Lyons is on the road to recovery from the deluge, but some longtime residents haven't been able to return.
Today: As Jamestown s repair efforts from the wall of water that hit it are nearly completed, residents say the town's resiliency is based on neighbors willingness to help one another.
On a sunny hillside on the outskirts of Jamestown a visitor can pause to reflect on its recent tragic past while only having to listen for unmistakable evidence of the small town's enduring vitality.
It's at the top of a slope in one corner of the untamed Jamestown cemetery — a burst of wildflowers and thigh-high mountain grasses nearly obscuring many of the tombstones — that one can see the marble and sandstone bench. A weathered bag of golf clubs and a brace of pink flamingos also mark the burial place of Joey Howlett, the beloved figure who was the one Jamestown resident to die in the 2013 flood.
And from the same spot, it's impossible not to hear, above the buzzing of the insects and chattering of the birds, the beeping and grinding of construction vehicles in the valley below on the north side of James Creek. Work continues there to repave the road into town, one of the final projects remaining before recovery from the disaster of five years ago can be called complete.
Sitting by the Town Square on a late summer morning, Tara Schoedinger, who stepped down as mayor in May after a tenure dominated by the disaster that literally altered her town's landscape, was asked if her community is all the way back.
"I don't think there's such a thing," Schoedinger said. "We're settling into a new normal. I think it will never be 'normal' again. Or, it will never be the 'normal' that it was before."
And that is true for things both tangible and intangible.
"Some of the things are as simple as, we used to never really see the creek through town," Schoedinger said. "And now it's so prominent, because we don't have all the vegetation we used to have that used to hide it.
"And in many places, it's in a different location. See that tree? The creek used to be on this side of that tree. And there used to be two houses back there, where the creek is. There used to be two more houses up this way," she said, gesturing another direction. "Yeah, it's just different."
And there are the people who are gone. Howlett, 72, onetime owner of the Jamestown Mercantile, was killed when a wall of mud and debris careened down Howlett's Gulch behind his home and crushed him where he slept in the early morning hours of Sept. 12, 2013.
But beyond that, there are those who left — evacuations by National Guard helicopter were initiated on Friday the 13th — and never came back.
Schoedinger said between 10 and 20 town residents have not returned. Ten destroyed homes were bought out with Federal Emergency Management Agency or Department of Community Development Block Grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, to the tune of nearly $2.4 million.
That's just a fraction of the $30 million, covered by state and federal grants that will ultimately have been required to make Jamestown whole — the big ticket, about $13.7 million, going to roads and bridges.
Schoedinger, a career IT professional who thought that as mayor her biggest challenge was going to be tackling a town water treatment center that was in a state of disrepair, instead found her tenure defined by a historic flood. Although no longer mayor, she still holds the title of voluntary flood recovery coordinator.
"All I did for three years was learn. I used to say to everybody who was here to help us, I didn't know what I didn't know. I'd say to people, 'I need you to help me understand what I don't know, and I don't even know what I'm going to be doing tomorrow,'" she said.
"I didn't know what it took to rebuild a road, never mind a town. I had no experience in interfacing with construction contractors or dealing with government officials around federal regulations, those types of things. And so I would say, I learned every day. And I still do."
'This precious human life'
One of those who left is Deborah Haynes, who now makes her home in Longmont, where she is better able to care for her husband, former Jamestown mayor David Thorndike, who has with dementia.
"I keenly miss the community and the town. It's a remarkable community," said Haynes, who claims 15 minutes of fame for having been photographed as the first Jamestown resident to disembark from the first evacuation chopper when it landed at Boulder Municipal Airport.
"Our house was right at the confluence of lower Main Street and Mill Street. We lost three buildings, and the house itself was damaged. The six-figure repair was a mighty thing," Haynes said.
"It was a lot of work, but it was rebuilt and repaired, thanks to the Menonites and also the Texas Baptists. Both groups were just absolutely astonishing," said Haynes, who has subsequently sold the residence.
Leaving a home and community she loved behind was the biggest post-flood challenge for Haynes. But she thinks, too, about irreplaceable items of art such as a stone meditation chair she had fashioned, which vanished in the flood.
And in front of her house had stood an altar, the product of four years of artful carving, in remembrance to town residents who had died over the years. She had inscribed the legend "This precious human life," and residents were invited to take or leave items in honor of loved ones. That, too, has not been seen since the deluge.
But Haynes' work isn't done in the town. She will be the one to carve words of remembrance in Howlett's memorial bench — when she and his son, Zachary, can connect and finalize the project.
"Unfortunately, his son is living out of the country, in a couple of different places, so we haven't settled on what those words should be. That's why there are no words yet," Haynes said.
The most glaring evidence that still lingers of the wreckage this town suffered stands right on Main Street, where Jyoti Sharp's home looms like a nightmare dollhouse, half of it sawed away and its interior laid cruelly bare when the rampaging rogue river washed out its foundation.
A series of complications and unusual hurdles have cropped up on the road toward Sharp reinhabiting the property she'd bought in 2002.
"Everybody still jokes about how it became the poster house after the flood," Sharp noted, commenting that pictures of it were ubiquitous in the days and weeks that followed.
"There's been a lot of obstacles, but I still just keep trying to overcome them and take another step forward," said Sharp. "My hope is to get the foundation poured before winter sets in."
While the remnants of her flood-damaged property still offer a stark reminder to town visitors of what occurred in September 2013, for Sharp the past five years have nevertheless brought positives.
"The flood was life-changing for me and so many others in Jamestown," she said. "But there have also been normal life changes since then, like the birth of my first grandchild four months later, and the death of my mom a year after the flood."
Memories she'll never lose include the way townspeople "moved heaven and Earth" to get a bag she'd already packed to attend her son's wedding a week after the flood across the raging river with a jury-rigged pulley system.
"Life goes on, whether you're ready for it or not. I have four grandkids now, and those little ones keep me grateful and grounded and ready to face whatever comes next," Sharp said.
'We were her backup'
Jamestown's Town Square has been restored and improved. The two bridges are new. The fire station is new — to the tune of about $950,000. Much of the street paving is new, and both the water treatment plant and water distribution system are largely rebuilt.
But a town anchor both before and after the flood is as familiar to Jamestown residents and its visitors as cool mountain mornings and the town's warm, laid-back vibe.
That mainstay is one of few commercial establishments in town, the Jamestown Mercantile — "The Merc," to its devoted clientele, which extends far beyond the town's population of roughly 275 people to include nearly every weary cyclist who muscles their way up the canyon.
Tears came to Schoedinger's eyes as she spoke about the sense of community and resiliency that survived the flood and still flourishes today,
"We haven't lost who we are. We still come together, maybe even more now, to celebrate things like the Fourth of July," she said. "And honestly, I think a lot of it has to do with the Merc and the fact that the owners were able to keep the Merc open. And that is really Joey's legacy."
Adam Burrell and Rainbow Schultz, along with their son and daughter, Kofi and Juna, also were on the copters out of town when the clouds parted late the week of the flood. When they flew out, they left the store open.
"That's always been the role of this place," Schultz said. "If someone needs to break in, in the middle of the night and grab whatever, that happened before the flood and so that was really not a hard decision, just to leave the door open when we were in a state of emergency."
Schultz bought the Merc — the building served as the town's post office and general store as far back as the early 1900s — from Howlett in 2010. It has anchored a pivotal role in uniting the community through crises such as the 2003 Overland Fire, a decade before the flood, and remains its social oasis in good times as well.
But Schultz and Burrell shrug off comments from Schoedinger and others that their role has been central to Jamestown's recovery.
"She always points at other people," Schultz said. "I mean, if it weren't for Tara, we wouldn't be here, either. So really, when it comes down to it, Tara was a superhero. We were definitely her backup.'
Schultz concedes to "an organizational role" in keeping the Merc afloat, but added, "The entire town kept it going. I've showed up to people cleaning the windows with a squeegee, that were never asked to come clean the windows. I have shown up before, when there were people planting flowers in the front. All of these things have been done by the community, without being asked to."
Burrell said, "The truth of the matter is, my view on what humanity is capable of, when tragedy strikes, is quite different from what it was before the flood. I'm really blown away by how human beings come together to help each other when push comes to shove.
"When it really comes down to it, any differences melt away and people just want to help each other on this basic level. And that is something that I had never really witnessed before."
'Never been better'
An old sheet of wood bearing the message "We Love You Joey" is still propped up on the edge of Joey Howlett's vacant homesite, flanked — like his burial plot — by two pink flamingos.
His son, Zachary Howlett, could not be reached for comment, so his preferences for words to adorn his father's memorial bench at the cemetery aren't yet known.
Schultz, however, has what she termed a "strong opinion" on the subject.
"I think it should be 'never been better,'" she said. "Because if you would ever ask Joey how he was doing, he would say, 'never been better.'"
Schultz said she'd mentioned to Joey Howlett two months before he died that she considered it his perfect epitaph, "and he said, 'I can't believe you said that, because someone else just said that to me this morning.'"
But Haynes, the artist tasked with executing an eventual inscription, said that idea had already been floated to Zachary Howlett and that he has dismissed it.
Whether Jamestown itself has "never been better," or whether it's more accurately described as bruised but healing well, an inscription on a bench decorated by school children at Jamestown's Elysian Park might carry the message that best resonates five years after the rain stopped falling:
"Maybe things end because something new is ready to begin."
Charlie Brennan: 303-473-1327, email@example.com or twitter.com/chasbrennan
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