Laura Hunter shares her story about being washed away during flooding in Colorado

MANITOU SPRINGS, Colo. - Laura Hunter was sitting in her small Manitou Springs, Colo., cottage last Friday when disaster struck.

"I'm sitting there and all of a sudden water started pouring into my living room window and quickly, real quickly -- I had no time to gather anything, not my pets or anything -- I went to the front door and I was going to cross the street to high ground and as I was doing that I got washed away," she said.

The 49-year-old told her story to reporters Monday as she sat in a wheelchair at Penrose St. Francis Hospital in Colorado Springs. Dressed in a yellow hospital gown, she had a bruise under her eye and a cast covering one leg and foot.

Hunter said she was sucked underwater for a distance before she resurfaced and spotted a tree.

"I thought, 'I'm going to grab that tree and pull myself out,'" she said.

Later, she learned the waters were rushing downhill at 30 mph.

As she pulled herself out of the water, Hunter said, she realized she had a broken leg and foot. She said the cold water and adrenaline limited the pain she felt.

"It wasn't until the next day, that I found out that my cottage, totally, is gone. It's just a slab there," she said with tears in her eyes.

Previous floods had destroyed a friend's home, but spared Hunter's cottage.

"I just thought the culvert was doing its job now and I thought that perhaps all the debris that came down initially, that the worst of it may be over."

Despite the painful loss of her home and cats, Hunter told two stories of kindness that happened over the weekend after her terrifying experience. The first involves a friend who salvaged her bicycle from a pile of debris after seeing it on television. The other was an act of kindness by a stranger who found a backpack containing her identification and credit cards.

Hunter said the bag was given to a volunteer firefighter chaplain, who brought it to her.

"He brought it to me yesterday with his wife and presented me with a brand new backpack, some toiletries, a wallet with some money in it and then of course all my IDs and stuff too," Hunter said.

Hunter closed the interview with this advice:

"When people warn you about a flood, don't just go, 'Aww, you're silly.' You know? Definitely take it seriously."

She could be released from the hospital as early as Tuesday.

The hospital has clarified that Hunter was not the same woman other people saw clinging to a tree during the flooding.

"Our patient went into the water at the 500 block of Canon Ave., the unaccounted for person that Manitou Springs PD is looking for entered the water at the 100 block of Canon Ave.," the hospital said in a statement sent to 7NEWS. "Police believe they're two separate individuals."

The Manitou Springs Fire Department says that other woman has been located and is home recovering from the ordeal.

 

-- Cleanup effort continuing --

Flood waters wiped out the bottom of Donna Ford's business, destroying everything she had built.

"This was supposed to be my retirement," Ford said.

Steep canyons and the lack of vegetation in the Waldo Canyon Fire burn area directed water, mud and debris into the historic town.

"It's hard for us to get any equipment in there to do any kind of grooving or cutting to create channels that we can channel the water into or catch debris," Manitou Springs Fire Chief Keith Buckmiller said.

Buckmiller said crews have been dropping seed on the area for the past year, but it wasn't enough to prevent the recent mudslides.

Now, crews are looking at cleaning up hard-hit areas like the base of Williams Canyon.

The mudslide on Friday night closed the highway and flash flooding stranded vehicles in high water. At least one home was destroyed in the flood waters.

No damage estimate has yet been released.

-- Other flood victims --

Two of the people initially reported missing have been found alive.

Juston Travis was located and is safe, the El Paso County Sheriff's Office tweeted Sunday.

A man identified only as Steve was also found safe, according to KRDO.

One person died in the flash flood.

The body of 53-year-old John Collins was found Friday night buried beneath a significant amount of debris on the westbound lanes of U.S. Highway 24, the sheriff's office said. It was not clear if Collins got out of his vehicle by choice or if the rapidly rushing water and debris forced him from his vehicle.

According to the El Paso County Coroner’s Office, the cause of Collins’ death is believed to be drowning.

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