"We are dry out here now," said the Rev. Sue Artt, interim conference minister of the Rocky Mountain Conference of the United Church of Christ in Colorado Springs. "Things aren't approaching normal by any means, but it is finally dry which is really nice."
The rain may have stopped, but several communities in Colorado now face the task of recovering from the last week's devastating floods triggered by a week of historically heavy rains that ravaged a 130-mile stretch of the eastern slopes of the Colorado Rockies. As of Thursday, Sept. 19, eight people were confirmed dead, at least 1,600 homes have been destroyed and another 17,000 have been damaged. More than 3,000 people have been evacuated by air, and state emergency crews say at least 200 residents are still unaccounted for. Colorado authorities are ramping up search efforts for those missing or stranded, and continue to evacuate low-lying prairie towns in danger of being flooded as the waters move downstream.
Fortunately no UCC churches have been severely damaged, so congregations have been able to reach out to help their members and communities, many who face a long road to recovery.
"UCC church facilities have not experienced major flooding, however, a number of UCC members' homes are damaged and some destroyed by flood waters," said Florence Coppola, the UCC's executive of National Disaster Ministries. "The full extent of damages will not be known until roads are cleared and residents are able to get to their houses."
Since most local schools have been closed, UCC Longmont in Longmont, Colo., offered free child care for families affected by the floods. The congregation's volunteer staff supported up to 40 children at a time from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Wednesday of this week. The church provided meals, playtime and supervision for children while their parents began to rebuild their homes and lives, Artt said.
Community Congregational UCC in Manituo Springs, Colo., has provided volunteers to the local Red Cross evacuation center, and St. John's UCC in Greeley, Colo., is helping to offer temporary shelter for several hundred Greeley residents whose trailer homes were swept away by overflowing riverbanks.
"We have a mess on our hands," Artt said. "Rebuilding is going to take time and resources, and any way UCC churches can help, we appreciate it and will someday return the favor. We are grateful for all of the thoughts and prayers and for the UCC pulling together to be the church it has always been."
First responders are still conducting search and rescue missions, and it is too soon to send volunteer crews to the area, Coppola said, adding that even highly-skilled volunteers who are accustomed to being first on the scene are being told to stay away. However, the UCC is collecting donations to assist with recovery efforts. Through One Great Hour of Sharing, the UCC has so far sent $2,000 solidarity grants to five Colorado UCC churches.
"These grants will allow pastors to provide immediate assistance to members in need," Coppola said. "They will also support the work churches are doing to assist the whole community with food, water, cleanup and child care. I am grateful for our churches' willingness to 'step up to the plate' and extend themselves for the good of all."
To donate to the UCC's Colorado flood relief efforts visit the UCC's Disaster Ministries' page.