• Boulder Creek rising under a bridge in downtown Boulder. Deep beneath the flood waters are multiple lanes of bike and walking paths and a tall scenic waterfall.

    Credit: K. Kermani

    Boulder Creek rising under a bridge in downtown Boulder. Deep beneath the flood waters are multiple lanes of bike and walking paths and a tall scenic waterfall.

(Boulder County Colo.--Zero plus 7 days) Boulder and 16 other counties in Colorado are still reeling from the disastrous floods that tore through the state during the last week. Record rainfall of over 21 inches in some parts of the county rushed water down every canyon and gully from the Continental Divide through town and all the way east across the state, leaving an estimated 20,000 houses damaged or destroyed.

For the victims in my county, this is an unbelievable event--no one ever expected to witness and then wade through the aftermath of a 500-year historic flood event. And now they are left wondering how to put their homes and lives back together.

Worldly possessions may truly be fleeting, but most people view their house and home as the center of their family's life and are determined to get it fixed up as quickly as possible and get on with their normal lives.

Now the sun is shining again, human spirits are healing, and many thousands of optimistic residents are looking desperately for contractors to help.

Keep checking back for coverage of what's required of contractors in these circumstances, best practices for dealing with flood damage, and available resources for everyone involved. And be safe out there.

For victims of the Colorado floods, here are things you should do right away:

  • Do not stay in a significantly damaged house. Besides the hazards of known or unknown structural damage, gas leaks, electrical hazards, and carbon monoxide leaks from damaged flues may not be readily apparent, but can prove deadly just the same.
  • Shut off gas valves to flooded hot water heaters and furnaces. Switch off breakers to wet areas of the building. If you don't know how, ask the fire department or other emergency responders for help.
  • Treat floodwater as both chemically toxic and a biohazard. Limit direct contact with the water by wearing rubber boots and gloves, and wash well after contact. Even water washing down a pristine mountain canyon into town will bear gasoline and oil from damaged vehicles above, as well as fuel and any other chemicals stored in houses, ranches, and or businesses situated anywhere uphill. The same goes for cesspools, septic systems, and sewers located in elevations above.
  • Pump, siphon, or bail out standing water--if you can do so safely. Remove soaked items, and try to sanitize and dry out your house. Time is of the essence as pervasive mold can start in just a few days.
  • File a report with your homeowner's insurance and flood insurance carriers.
  • Register with FEMA to report any storm-related losses, no matter how minor. Even renters should register. www.DisasterAssistance.gov, 800-621-FEMA (3362), TTY 800-462-7585, on a smartphone or tablet at m.fema.gov. Help is available in most languages and phone lines are open 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week until further notice.

• Contact the American Red Cross for shelter and food, drinking water, and personal care items. They even have shovels and tools to loan and bleach for disinfecting. www.redcross.org, 800-RED CROSS (733-2767).

• If you have lost contact with friends and family or if anyone may consider you missing, register with www.safeandwell.org, 888-635-6381. You may also look up people you are concerned about on this website.

• For more information and links to resources for those affected, check out the district's representative's website polis.house.gov/.

This is the first in a series of reports intended to help inform both the victims of natural disasters as well as the contractors they look to in these times of crisis.