From the Rocky Mountain foothills to the plains of northeastern Colorado, the search for people stranded by severe flooding grew more difficult on Sunday, with a new wave of rain preventing airlifts reaching flooded areas that are still out of reach.
Numerous pockets of individuals remain cut off from help, even with more than 1,750 people and 300 pets already rescued from communities and homes swamped by rivers and streams overflowing after unrelenting rain last week, officials said.
Four people have been confirmed dead and two more missing presumed dead after their homes were swept away.
Some 1,500 homes have been destroyed and about 17,500 damaged, according to an initial estimate released by the Colorado Office of Emergency Management on its website.
Almost 12,000 people have left their homes, and 1,253 people have not been heard from, state emergency officials said. With phone service restored to some of the areas over the weekend, officials hoped that number would drop as they contacted more stranded people.
As many as 1,000 people in Larimer County were awaiting rescue on Sunday, but airlifts were grounded because of the rain. Hundreds more people are unaccounted for to the south in Boulder County and other flood-affected areas.
The additional rain falling on ground that has been saturated since Wednesday created the risk of more flash flooding and mud slides, according to the National Weather Service.
Days of rain and floods have transformed the outdoorsy mountain communities in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain foothills from a paradise for backpackers and nature lovers into a disaster area with little in the way of supplies or services. Roadways have crumbled, scenic bridges are destroyed, and most shops are closed.
An 80-year-old woman in Larimer County’s Cedar Cove was missing and presumed dead after her home was washed away by the flooding Big Thompson River, officials said on Sunday. The woman was injured and unable to leave her home on Friday night, said a sheriff’s spokesman, John Schulz.
“When local people came to help get her out of the home, it was gone,” he said.
The woman is missing in the same area where a 60-year-old woman is presumed dead after the river destroyed her home the same night.
In Morgan County, Sheriff James Crone told KMGH-TV a bridge had collapsed and the raging South Platte River had divided the area. The river was expected to flood until at least Tuesday, and Crone worried the new rain could send another surge of water down the river.
The last two days have seen dramatic rescues of trapped residents as helicopters hoisted them and their pets above the floodwaters. Some have refused to go, choosing instead to stay with their homes and property. A helicopter taking Colorado’s governor, John Hickenlooper, on a tour of the flooded areas stopped twice, to pick up six stranded people and two pets.
Boulder county sheriff Joe Pelle said people would not be forced to leave, but they have been warned that rescuers will not return for those who choose to stay.
President Barack Obama signed a disaster declaration and ordered federal aid for Colorado.
In the neighbouring state of New Mexico, flood waters broke through dams, inundated neighborhoods and killed at least one person. The massive flooding prompted Governor Susana Martinez to issue a state of emergency, opening up recovery funding after rivers overflowed because of heavy rains and caused millions of dollars in damage.
Chris Curly with AM 820 news talks about the flooding:
Source: Associated Press