By: Ken Olsen
American Legion volunteers are mucking out damaged homes, providing financial aid and finding shelter for Colorado flood victims as part of a massive response to a disaster that hit the state two weeks ago.
American Legion Post 18 in Greeley found temporary housing for Navy veteran Charles E. Laurent and his wife, Leona, in a local retirement center after they lost water and sewer service to their Evans, Colo., home.
“It’s beyond anything I could have ever thought of,” said Laurent, a veteran of World War II, Korea and Vietnam. “We can’t express our gratitude enough.”
Laurent is a former Post 18 commander. His wife is a member of the American Legion Auxiliary.
Efforts to find veterans and family members temporary housing will continue as emergency shelters close, said Post 18 Commander Jim Hartshorn. Meanwhile, Hartshorn and other Legion volunteers throughout northern Colorado are helping veterans affected by the floods apply for financial help from Legion’s National Emergency Fund.
The fund provides direct financial assistance to qualified Legion family members and posts recovering from a natural disaster. Those affected by the Colorado flooding have 90 days to submit an application. Veterans impacted by the floods can contact the Colorado’s department headquarters at (303) 366-5201.
Post 18 and its Auxiliary unit also have given more than $6,000 to the Weld County Food Bank, the Salvation Army and veterans in need, Hartshorn said. The post also coordinated donations of towels and other much-needed personal items for people staying at the local shelter.
Legion members from Post 1 in Denver delivered 100 packages with shampoo, toothbrushes and other personal items to the Greeley shelter. When they pulled up to deliver the items, John Tillisch of American Legion Post 41 in Tonganoxie, Kan., stepped to the curb to help unload the van. Tillisch is part of an American Red Cross Disaster Relief Team that responded to the floods.
In the communities of Longmont and Lyons, meanwhile, Team Rubicon is hauling mud and gravel out of flooded basements with five-gallon buckets and stripping soaked dry wall, insulation and carpet from flood-damaged homes. Founded by retired Marines Jake Wood and William McNulty, Team Rubicon has made a name for itself by dispatching volunteers, most of them veterans, to help communities dig out after tornadoes, hurricanes and floods.
Team Rubicon’s damage assessment teams have been going door-to-door in Colorado for more than a week, followed by strike teams that make quick work of cleaning up flood-ravaged homes. Navy veteran Keith Solt was astounded when Team Rubicon showed up on his doorstep. “They have been incredible,” says Solt, whose basement started to flood on Sept. 12, his birthday. “Some people are paying $18,000 for what they do for free.”
A few blocks away, retired physician John Fritz was equally effusive about the help he received from Team Rubicon. “They are the most awesome group of people I have ever experienced,” he said.
As of Sept. 25, Team Rubicon had conducted more than 670 damage assessments and cleaned up 44 homes. Another 174 homes are on its growing clean-up list.
Heavy fall rains that started two weeks ago triggered floods that damaged more than 16,000 homes across 17 counties and claimed at least eight lives, according to the Colorado Department of Emergency Management. Those killed by the flood include Gerald “Gerry” Boland, a member of American Legion Post 32 in Longmont, Colo.