For generations, Colorado has been prized for its vivid and diverse landscape. The state encompasses most of the Southern Rocky Mountains and is world-renown for its skiing, hiking and numerous other opportunities for outdoor adventure. Yet in recent years, I’m afraid Colorado’s natural beauty has become synonymous with disaster and tragedy.
The devastating fires of the last two years were fueled by one of the most severe droughts in Colorado history. Now Coloradans are grappling with the tragedy we’ve witnessed as a result of the tremendous storms we endured last week.
According to the latest figures from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), there are seven confirmed fatalities, more than 200 injuries, more than 600 residents missing or unaccounted for, and approximately 11,750 residents remain evacuated from five counties stretching across northeastern Colorado. In addition, more than 1,500 homes have been completely destroyed and nearly 16,000 damaged.
As the skies begin to clear and the water starts to recede, we know we are a long way from putting things right. There are still hundreds without a safe, decent place to live and many towns and cities whose infrastructure has been crippled by the ravages of the storms.
Yet since the President’s disaster declaration on September 14th, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has taken a significant role in getting flood victims back on their feet. The President’s disaster declaration allows HUD to speed federal disaster assistance to the State of Colorado and provide support to homeowners and low-income renters forced from their homes due to severe storms, flooding, landslides and mudslides.
Whether it’s granting a 90-day moratorium on foreclosures of Federal Housing Administration (FHA)-insured home mortgages or giving the State of Colorado the ability to re-allocate existing federal resources toward the relief effort, HUD stands ready to assist in the rebuilding process.
Yet as we have seen in previous disasters, this effort cannot be completed by one single agency. It requires the coordinated focus of Federal, state and local agencies to move us beyond the point of tragedy and onto the road to recovery. HUD, for example, is actively participating with the State’s Disaster Housing Task Force to collect and disseminate information regarding the flood relief efforts. Updates on this information are available on the Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management website. Impacted residents can also find information on locating temporary housing at www.coloradohousingsearch.com. Owners and landlords may also list available housing resources on this site as well.
Despite the challenges we face, I am encouraged by the level of intense collaboration I’ve witnessed in the last few days as government agencies, non-profits and individual citizens join together to quicken resources to those who need it the most. There is no doubt in my mind, we will recover from this disaster and will continue to be the incredible Rocky Mountain State of Colorado. This speaks to the very heart of what makes Colorado such a special place; not the height of its mountains’ peaks or the beauty of its awe-inspiring landscape but the sheer tenacity and the enduring spirit of its people.
Rick M. Garcia is the HUD Rocky Mountain Regional Administrator in Denver, Colorado and the Senior Advisor to the Secretary on Sustainability.