HERMOSA – The weather Monday morning was sunny and calm, with no monsoonal thunderstorms in the forecast. Looking east across the Animas Valley, observers would think that nothing ever happened.
But on the west side of the valley, Gene and Marjorie Vanderburs’ home is filled with a layer of mud 6 feet high. In their backyard, the hillside has moved so much that the second floor’s deck almost feels like it is the first floor.
The Vanderburs, who live at The Pines Townhomes, were hit hard July 24 by flash floods and debris flows. Immediately south of their house lies a river of mud, logs and large boulders that is several feet deep.
To make matters worse, debris precariously sits on the burned hillside above the homes, just waiting until the next big rainstorm hits for it to rush downhill and create more havoc. For the Vanderburs and residents near the 416 Fire burn scar, this is their new reality for the long term, officials say. .
Larry Bareis, treasurer of The Pines Townhomes Homeowners Association and whose house was spared major damage from the last round of floods, said one company estimated it would cost $50,000 to clean up the debris. However, the HOA is running low on money after cleaning up the debris that had blocked the road.
Bareis hopes to organize a community meeting for area residents to take their concerns to local and state officials. He said meeting requests have been sent to everyone from county commissioners to the governor’s office.
“I want all of Hermosa to be there,” he said, noting that everybody downhill from the burn scar is in some type of danger.
Bareis is frustrated because no assistance has been offered from La Plata County or other governmental agencies.
“They (the county) haven’t helped at all – not even a sand bag,” he said.
He said insurance assessors and the Natural Resources Conservation Service have been working in the area, but there has not been short-term help – financial or otherwise.
But the county is not responsible or obligated to assist in repairing damage to private property, county spokeswoman Megan Graham told The Durango Herald on Monday.
“Certainly, we understand how upsetting and inconvenient it is to have these impacts,” she said.
The county is working with the NRCS to provide resources to private property owners. For example, The NRCS Emergency Watershed Protection Program can help with erosion, flood mitigation and repair work on private property. The NRCS has been surveying damage, but no programs have yet been opened to the public, Graham said.
The Vanderburs live in Durango part-time. When the flood hit, they were in Phoenix, Marjorie said.
Currently, they are living with their neighbor as they search for a contractor to start cleaning their home. They would like to see some sort of government assistance identified through Bareis’ initiative.
“We just don’t know where to start,” she said.
A slight distance to the north of Bareis’ home are Pine Acres condominiums where all but one of the bottom floor units suffered flood damage.
In between the hillside and the 15 damaged units, a ditch is being dug and dangerous trees removed.
Like their neighbors, the residents are concerned about what officials are saying – that more flooding is not an “if” but a “when” issue, said Kristen Hoff, interim Pine Acres Homeowners Association president.
Hoff said that the units at Pine Acres are all individually owned. She said that homeowners’ insurance policies do not cover flood damage.
She said the best-case scenario would be to receive county or federal funding to help with water and debris-flow mitigation. She said the HOA will pay only as a last resort.
Across the stream of boulders from the Vanderburs is the home of Mel Smith, which is not part of The Pines Townhomes HOA.
The Smiths are elderly, do not have much money, and their driveway is still blocked by hundreds of boulders and rocks.
The Smith and Vanderbur homes are but two monumental tasks ahead among many more in the neighborhood.
“Someone’s got to help,” Bareis said.