BERTHOUD, Colo. – Violent storms across Colorado have swirled into tornadoes that destroyed homes, popped open a sinkhole that swallowed a police cruiser and dropped so much hail on a Denver neighborhood that residents had to dig out of waist-deep ice with shovels.
Forecasters warned Friday that more severe weather and flooding was on the way.
The National Weather Service placed the eastern half of the state under a tornado watch and posted flood advisories in the north.
No serious injuries have been reported from the storms that raked areas from Fort Collins in the north to Pueblo, nearly 180 miles south.
As lightning flickered from horizon to horizon and heavy rain pelted Denver overnight, Sgt. Greg Miller of the Sheridan police department drove his SUV into a 15-foot-deep, 20-foot-wide sinkhole that he couldn't see on a suburban street.
Miller crawled through a window and to the vehicle's roof, then up to the pavement.
"I'm glad it happened to me and to no one else," Miller, who wasn't hurt, told Denver's KMGH-TV. A crane pulled the cruiser out Friday afternoon.
In one Denver neighborhood, residents came outside to find 3-foot-deep piles of hail. The marbles of ice blanketed the street like snow, and crews used bucket-loaders to clear the road.
In Berthoud, about 40 miles north of Denver, Alvin Allmendinger and family scrambled to the basement just before a tornado stripped off the roof.
They stayed an hour, hail rolling down the stairs and rain seeping through the floorboards above.
Brandon Scott, Allmendinger's son-in-law, said hail stones piled up about 2 inches deep on the basement steps.
"We're all alive, and that's what matters," Allmendinger said, standing atop the rubble of the home under ominous skies.
At least three homes were destroyed in Berthoud. Crews repaired downed power lines and police set up road checkpoints throughout the area.
"People who have lived here 50 years had never seen weather like that before," said Luke Koldewyn of Johnstown, whose parents' modular home was destroyed. He found a family dog, Luna, trapped, but fine, in the rubble.
The black Lab "didn't want to be free," he said. "She was scared to move."
Tornadoes damaged at least six homes near Simla, on Colorado's eastern plains, Elbert County officials said. A new twister touched down Friday afternoon but lifted off before causing damage, the National Weather Service said.
More than 7 inches of rain hit parts of the Rocky Mountain foothills, which experienced devastating flooding in 2013. In the town of Lyons, a 3-foot-wide torrent of brown water rushed across Tamara Vega Haddad's yard Friday. It carried heavy flagstone blocks from her terraced front yard and dropped them 60 feet away, across a cul-de-sac.
Water also got into her basement, but she shrugged it off. "I thought, `We don't have to evacuate, my kids don't have to go to another school,"' she said.
Big disasters give you a "big perspective," she said, alluding to the destruction two years ago.
Rivers in northern Colorado, meanwhile, are running high from melting snow and an unusually rainy spring, increasing the flood risk there.
The storms that began overnight were the result of the El Nino phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean, an upper-level jet stream and a low-pressure system parked over southern California. The factors have combined to deliver moisture this week from the Gulf of Mexico into Colorado and southern Wyoming.
Flash floods swept through the eastern Wyoming town of Lusk before dawn Thursday, wiping out a bridge on the major road through the community of about 1,500 people. Engineers were considering whether to put up a temporary span Friday.
The storm system should push into Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma early next week, National Weather Service meteorologist Kari Bowen said.