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FORT COLLINS, Colo.-Colorado floodwaters that killed at least five people and injured dozens more also left a muddy swath of destruction and property damage that will cost tens of millions of dollars to restore.
The flooding began last week in Fort Collins, Colo., when heavy rains forced Spring Creek over its banks. It destroyed two mobile home parks, damaged dozens of homes and washed away hundreds of vehicles.
The biggest commercial losses are likely to come from Colorado State University, which suffered extensive property damage, including the loss of thousands of textbooks in the campus bookstore.
Fort Collins retailers and business owners were regaining access to their property late last week and beginning to assess damages.
Colorado Gov. Roy Romer declared a disaster emergency, which released $5 million in state funds to aid the Fort Collins area. The governor requested federal disaster designation, which would provide additional funds.
In a letter to President Clinton requesting the designation, the governor acknowledged that while flood damage assessments were ongoing, conservative estimates put losses at $40 million to $50 million for Colorado State University and another $5 million to $6 million in "private property and infrastructure damage" in Fort Collins.
The governor's private property figure could well turn out to be low. One insurer alone last week estimated it would pay $2 million in auto claims.
Approximately 20 buildings at the university suffered damage. Flooding in the basement of the Morgan Library damaged about half of the facility's collection, which was being stored there during a renovation project.
University personnel acted quickly in an attempt to save around 500,000 books and periodicals, some a century old. The items were transported within hours of the flooding to a firm specializing in restoring printed material, a university spokeswoman noted.
"The reason they were in the basement was to accommodate the renovation," she said. "Normally, that's not where they would have been."
The spokeswoman said much of the damage likely is covered by a state self-insurance fund. Some operations that acted as businesses on the campus, such as the bookstore, are covered under policies written by private insurers, she added.
The state also has $25 million in flood coverage written by three insurers, according to John Cook, claims manager for the state.
National Union Fire Insurance Co. of Pittsburgh, Pa., writes the first $5 million in coverage. Excess layers totaling $20 million are written by Reliance Insurance Co. and Fireman's Fund Insurance Co.
Insurers were beginning to total homeowners and auto claims from the flooding late last week.
State Farm Insurance Cos. said it anticipates about 500 auto claims averaging $4,000 each.
The insurer doesn't expect a lot of homeowner claims, a spokeswoman noted, because most of the damaged residences were manufactured homes. "We didn't insure any of those."
Allstate Insurance Co. expects little claims activity from the area. "We've not declared it a catastrophe," said a spokeswoman. "It's being handled as routine."
Most buildings and homes in the area are not protected by flood insurance.
Latest figures recorded by the National Flood Insurance Program listed only 228 policies written for businesses and homes in the Fort Collins area, according to Norm Ashford, Denver-based regional sales manager for the program. The NFIP coverage is written up to limits of $500,000 for businesses and $250,000 for homes.