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Helping flood victims


Members of Flatirons Flood Fighters get ready to help neighbors battle the rising floodwaters. Photo by Davre Saavedra

Residents use Craigslist, social media to seek and offer help to flood victims By Shay Castle (originally run in the Daily Camera, 9/17/2013)

“Teacher available to help with cleanup, child care, running errands until school starts back up on Wednesday.”

“If you need temp housing for your pets we can accommodate small animals.”

“If you have a crawlspace or basement that is flooded, I have an extra submergable pump in my garage here and a fan to help finish the drying.”

“I have room for one adult and a small child (i have a 4 year old and 9 month old so plenty of toys/clothes) let me know!”

“Willing to take in a displaced family, single parent, couple or person. Friendly dogs ok!”

Craigslist was full of posts like these from concerned residents, eager to help in the aftermath of the mass flooding that has devastated Colorado’s Front Range for nearly a week, destroying roads, bridges, homes and businesses and claiming numerous lives — seven confirmed dead and more than 700 are still unaccounted for, as of Monday afternoon.

Many people turned to nontraditional sources to seek help, posting their needs on Facebook and Twitter. Several posts on Craigslist sought help in the form of shelter, supplies and tools to help rid their homes of water. But the amount of those offering assistance far outweighed those seeking it.

“Thank you to everyone who has responded thus far,” one poster from Los Angeles wrote, after receiving help moving waterlogged belongings from the basement of his 72-year-old mother’s house. “We have received more offers to help than we can ever need.”

Dozens of people offered help, some from as far away as Oregon and Pennsylvania, offering  their vehicles and numerous skills, everything from cooking to swift water rescue.

Emergency officials have said repeatedly over the past few days to stay home and leave rescue and cleanup efforts to the professionals until after the situation is more subdued. Volunteers are instead being directed to organizations such as the Red Cross and Salvation Army.

But that hasn’t stopped residents from banding together to dispense help.

“We have to act now, when they’re not inundated with mold,” said James Maxwell, spokesperson for Boulder Flood Relief, and independently organized group of volunteers who were inspired by the efforts of Occupy Sandy to assist in cleanup after the East Coast was decimated by the hurricane last October. “We can help right now. We can go in, remove the damage before it has a chance to start.  That’s the most important thing right now.”

The group is setting up permanent headquarters at 1033 Walnut, in donated office space. The group organized using social media, and is keeping their Facebook constantly updated with current needs, though Maxwell directed interested parties to their website, boulderfloodrelief.org, as the most effective way to help or get help.

“We’ve been able to move immediately,” Maxwell said. “Two days ago, we sent out small groups to clean up houses, and yesterday we had 40 people in the field, in two different neighborhoods.”

Cheree Sanchez of Flatirons Flood removes debris from a neighbor's property. Photo by Davre Saavedra.

A smaller group, calling themselves Flatirons Flood Fighters, began directing inquiries to other organizations after being overwhelmed by responses. The group held a meeting Monday evening to coordinate projects and resources for their 50 volunteers.

“We wanted it just to be a smaller thing, so we had to make our Facebook group private because we were just getting so many volunteers,” said Raine Lourie, one of the group’s two organizers. “We are telling people about Boulder Flood Relief because they are bigger and supposed to be better organized to handle hundreds of volunteers.”

Maxwell said Boulder Flood Relief has a database of more than 500 volunteers, a number he expects to quickly rise to more than 1,000 people. Maxwell said the organization is making every effort to educate its volunteers to “stay out of the way” of official responders, and to keep them safe in what could be potentially dangerous situations.

“We educate them before they go out, not to go into any structures that look even a little bit unstable, not to provide CPR or other health care unless they are trained to do so,” he said.

A spokesperson at the Boulder Office of Emergency Management call center urged people to use “common sense” when venturing out to offer assistance. While she wouldn’t comment directly on the actions of Boulder Flood Relief, she did say that groups of people forming to clean up their neighborhoods was not something the county was trying to discourage.

Mark Harrison, 31, spent the weekend with a group of friends helping to “gut and demolish” a friend’s flooded basement. He said the inspiration to help came after seeing the “obvious” need of so many people on social media channels.

“The other inspiration for helping was that Saturday was the Jewish holiday, or Yom Kippur,” Harrison said.  “It’s a day of repentance and self reflection; spending the day helping others just seemed right.”

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