In a matter of minutes, several neighbors in south Englewood found their floors and basements underwater in a storm that swallowed up belongings, memories and one woman’s life. Hours later, they …
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In a matter of minutes, several neighbors in south Englewood found their floors and basements underwater in a storm that swallowed up belongings, memories and one woman’s life.
Hours later, they faced the first day of their lives marked by the flood — together, emotionally and filled with uncertainty for the future.
“My whole life is underwater,” said Jolee Dreher, 40, watching workers pump water out of her basement under a noonday sun on July 25 that told little of the chaos hours earlier.
Neighbors described the scene from the evening before on the 4600 block of South Acoma Street as being like a lake, with knee-high water covering the road, lawns and porches, rushing between homes with river-like force.
Dreher, who was at work at the time, said her youngest son, daughter, older son and his girlfriend and baby all barely got out in time when the flood struck.
“It went from ground to chest in minutes, it was pushing doors closed” and there was no time to save anything, said Dreher, still in her work clothes from the night before.
About five feet of water still stood in her basement at 4660 S. Acoma St. — even after draining on its own through the night, she said, as she walked around the lawn with news reporters and her children milling about her.
Her landlord took care of the water removal, she said, and Red Cross personnel came to offer assistance.
“All of us that live in the area know it’s a flood area,” Dreher said, but “this is extreme, very unusual. I don’t think this is something any of us could have prepared for.”
Mourning ‘a tragic death’
As of the afternoon July 27, six households in Englewood were receiving food, lodging and clothing assistance from the Red Cross, said Andrea Carlson, spokeswoman for the organization’s Colorado-Wyoming region.
That included 17 people, a mix of adults and children, Carlson said. All of the households sit in or near the 4600 block of Acoma Street, she said. About 25 housing units in the city were impacted to some degree by the storm, according to the Red Cross.
One woman, Rachael Marie Haber, 32, died after Englewood police and Denver Fire Department officials responded to the basement unit at 4650 S. Acoma St. and pulled her out of water that had risen nearly to the ceiling. Cindy Hartman, the upstairs tenant, heard yelling and pounding on the door leading from the basement unit to the first-floor kitchen during the flood, and when Hartman couldn’t find the already submerged doorknob, she called 911.
Haber was taken to Swedish Medical Center and died in the early morning of July 25, with drowning the probable cause of death, according to the Arapahoe County Coroner’s Office.
Haber, of Aurora, was not the tenant in that unit. She was cat-sitting for a friend, according to GoFundMe pages set up to support her husband and the friend.
“We’re praying for the family of the lady that got lost in this tragedy,” said Angelo Maldonado, who lives across the street. “It’s unfair for someone to lose their life that quickly.”
The City of Englewood released a statement the evening of July 26 that it “is sorry to hear about the tragic death.”
Mayor Linda Olson signed a resolution declaring a local disaster on July 26, the statement said. It allows the city to work with Arapahoe County and the Colorado Office of Emergency Management to determine eligibility for disaster-relief funding, according to the statement. The city added that the storm’s severity is associated with a 50-to-100-year event, meaning a storm of that magnitude has a 1 to 2 percent chance of happening in any given year.
“When the city was built out, the master drainage system was not designed for this type” of storm, the statement said.
‘I just lost my whole world’
On a block northwest of Maldonado, a water-removal truck sat in front of a home, and scattered leaves and damaged trees lined some streets. Several residents of the flooded homes on Acoma Street said they were told by either firefighters or Xcel Energy representatives that they may not be able to stay because of possible structural damage and mold issues.
Courtney Strenke, 29, carried belongings in front of her home across the street from Dreher. She was home when the flood rushed in, breaking a window in a basement bedroom and pouring up to her knees.
“We were looking for passports, change of clothes, pictures and to unplug things,” but the rapidly rising water got in the way, Strenke said. She prepared to stay at her fiancee’s mother’s home.
But Maldonado, whose home is just north of Strenke’s, didn’t have a similar option. He sat on a porch as his landlord, standing nearby, heard news about the damage.
“I’m on disability (assistance), so I can’t just move,” said Maldonado, 41, who said he lost some belongings in his garage to the flood. He lives in the first-floor unit at 4661 S. Acoma St. with his brother, Isaac, a construction worker. The Red Cross gave Maldonado about $600 worth of assistance, which might get him three or four days at a hotel, he said.
“I’m just looking to recover and move on,” Maldonado said. “I’ve been nauseous all day thinking of where I’m gonna go.”
Beth Minnick, 53, paced around on the porch, nearly in tears, after learning insurance wouldn’t cover the damage on the duplex building at 4661 S. Acoma St., which Minnick rents out and has owned since 1998.
“I just lost my whole world — everything I’ve worked for,” Minnick said of the property she envisioned would support her retirement.
Minnick said she asked her insurer about flood insurance in 2014 and was told it wasn’t available to her because the property is not on a designated floodplain, an area regulated as being susceptible to flooding. A government program sells flood insurance to those in and outside of floodplains, but Minnick didn’t find that out until her father did some research and told her July 26, she said. Nearly everyone Minnick has talked to on the block doesn’t have flood insurance, she said.
“It’s coming out of our pocket,” said Minnick, who lived in Englewood for nearly 20 years until recently moving to Denver.
Minnick said she’s letting Maldonado keep August’s rent money, which is $1,380, because he needs to find a place to stay.
Nearby, a neighbor cleared debris from her yard, and other community members and neighbors stood on lawns and in the street, surveying damage and preparing for the recovery.
Maldonado, reflecting from his porch, noted possibly the only upside of the flood: “The neighborhood has come closer together.”
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