“We Were Buried in a Mudslide!”

Michelle Grainger, Steve Le Goff, and their neighbors survived two days of raging floodwaters. It was what came next that almost killed them.

By Nick Heil
Also published in Reader's Digest Magazine April 2014

colorado flood bedroomCourtesy Michelle Grainger

On a Wednesday Evening last September, Michelle Grainger and her husband, Steve Le Goff, stood in a downpour in front of their two-story Victorian home, one of a handful of historic structures in the tiny hamlet of Salina, Colorado, a few miles west of Boulder. They wondered aloud how much worse the storm would get. It had been raining for three days, and Gold Run Creek, the normally placid stream that flowed 40 feet from their home, had become a raging torrent.

“I think [the water] is going to reach the garage,” said Steve, 51. Still, the couple believed they were well prepared for the rising stream. Ever since the Four Mile Canyon Fire in 2010, which had wiped out most of the trees and much of the vegetation in the foothills around Salina, authorities had warned of possible catastrophic flash flooding.

Steve and Michelle, 52, had listened and had stacked 2,000 sandbags around their property. They had strung safety line along the footpath switchbacking up the steep hill directly behind their house, in case they had to evacuate their home at night. Their backpacks were crammed with supplies. All they had to do was strap harnesses onto their two Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Lucy and Kayla, and put their two cats, Izzie and Sophie, into carriers, and they would be ready to bolt for high terrain.

By Wednesday night, authorities were urging residents to do just that. Sections of the only road into and out of the narrow canyon were already underwater. If residents wanted to escape by car, this could be their last chance.