Cindy Hartman had finished supper and was contemplating whether to continue reading when a torrent of water gushed into her backyard from the alley just west of Broadway.
As she followed the tumbling river to the front yard, where a pickup truck driving slowly down Acoma Street created waves that sloshed her parked car back and forth, she heard yelling and pounding on the door leading from the basement duplex unit to her first-floor kitchen.
She rushed down, but the cold water had already covered the doorknob and partially filled the stairwell, encircling her waist. When she couldn’t feel the doorknob, Hartman — her heart racing — climbed back up and called 911.
“The water was so cold, so quickly, I knew I couldn’t stay,” said Hartman, 57, as she sat on her next-door neighbor’s porch Tuesday night, watching firefighters pump water from the basement of the home at 4650 S. Acoma St., Englewood. “I just prayed they could get here fast enough.”
Englewood Police officers and Denver Fire arrived minutes after Hartman’s 6:43 p.m. call. They were able to get the woman out and immediately gave her CPR, said Sgt. Chad Read, a spokesman with Englewood police. She was transported to Swedish Medical Center in critical condition, but died early Wednesday morning.
The Arapahoe County Coroner’s Office identified her as Rachael Marie Haber, 32, of Aurora, and cited probable drowning as cause of death.
A female tenant lived in the basement unit at 4650 S. Acoma St., said Hartman, who lives in the first-floor unit with a roommate.
It was unclear as of noon Wednesday whether Haber was the tenant.
A fast-moving thunderstorm Tuesday evening brought gale-like winds, hail and heavy rain to Englewood that in minutes had rivers flowing down Broadway and spilling into adjacent neighborhoods.
On Sherman Street, a towering pine tree fell on Alexandra Myers’ car. Myers, who lives in Kansas, was visiting her sister. At El Tepehuan restaurant, at Broadway and Hampden Avenue, employees gathered mops and towels to stave off the water seeping in under the doorways from the rushing water outside.
But on Acoma Street, between Tufts and Union avenues, a swirling river filled the street, rising at least a couple of feet to cover stoops and spill into the basements of a handful of homes through window wells and below-ground stairwells.
“It started out really slow, like a basic summer storm,” said Isaac Maldonado, 39, a construction worker who lives across the street from Hartman’s house. He and his brother, Angelo, 41, live in the first-floor unit at 4661 S. Acoma St. “But it rolled in so hard, so fast . . . it was flooded in a matter of 15 to 20 minutes.”
When officers arrived, the water was at least knee-deep on the street and front yards, Read said.
At the home where Haber was found, “it was my understanding the water was up to the ceiling,” Read said.
A cellphone video that Isaac Maldonado took showed a river-like torrent filling the street and water pouring through the front porch window well into the basement unit of the house at 4661 S. Acoma St., where Doug Cunningham, 53, has lived for 15 years with his 19-year-old son.
The home has come close to flooding a dozen times, with a little water seeping in through the window wells during previous storms, said Cunningham, who repairs guitars at businesses in Englewood and Littleton.
He said he had notified the city about the risk, but had been told a problem didn’t exist.
Tuesday night, Cunningham said the flood destroyed much of his son’s guitar collection and the recording studio Cunningham had built for him.
“Everything he’s ever known is gone,” Cunningham said.
Three of his four cockatiels — two of them breeders and a 5-month-old baby cockatiel — also were lost.
“I was up to my neck in water trying to save the birds,” he said. But “my main thing was to get my son out safe, to get myself out safe.”
Next door, Hillary, 35, who asked not to give her last name for privacy reasons, pointed to the window well on her front porch next to where a wooden pallet painted with an American flag still stood.
“It was going like a river into our basement,” she said of the water.
Hillary, a real estate agent who has lived in the home since 2011, and her husband used buckets, anything they could find, to try to scoop out the water, but “it was pointless.”
By 7 p.m., she said, the water had swelled to about 5 feet in the basement, destroying everything, including her wedding dress.
“Oh, God,” she said, holding her hand ups to her face, “this is so bad.”
Although the first-floor units of the the Maldonados, Cunninghams and Hartman —which they were renting — did not flood, several residents of the flooded homes on the street said they were told by either firefighters or Xcel Energy representatives that they may not be able to stay because of possible structural damage and mold issues.
As of noon Wednesday, six households in Englewood were receiving food, lodging and clothing assistance from the Red Cross Colorado-Wyoming region, said Andrea Carlson, Red Cross spokeswoman.
That includes 17 people, a mix of adults and children, Carlson said. All of the households sit in or near the 4600 block of Acoma Street, she said.
“If this is a real issue with the mold, I can’t afford to move,” said a worried Hartman, a volunteer at the Salvation Army who said she is on disability from an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation to the lungs. “It’s all kind of surreal. I’ve never had to work through anything like this.”
A couple of hours after the flood had receded, leaving mud on the street, sidewalks and front yards, a devastated Cunningham stood in the road, smoking a cigarette, desperate to leave the area. But fire trucks, still busy pumping out water from the homes, blocked his way out.
“I need to leave,” he said, looking away from the house. “I need to go.”
Reporter Ellis Arnold contributed to this story.
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