Three days after cataclysmic flooding devastated Colorado, at least seven people have now been confirmed to be dead, and more than 1,000 people are still missing. Clouds grounded search helicopters yesterday, hampering efforts.
A week of downpours has left a death toll that keeps rising and as many as 1,200 people unable to contact their families or call for help. We’re not sure if the latest body count includes two women reported missing and presumed dead in Larimer County.
FEMA is sending two 80-person search and rescue teams to help with the rescues in Larimer County. Large military vehicles (ATV’s) attempted to get up the mountain roads yesterday, but helicopter crews flying out of Boulder were suspended due to the weather.
Fox News reports:
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper told ABC’s “Good Morning America” that 16 or 17 helicopters were to resume searching for stranded residents Monday. Noting that many people have been without any kind of phone or Internet communications since the middle of last week, he says the focus of the effort is to make sure everyone in harm’s way gets “out of there.”
Hickenlooper says while the death toll is expected to rise, he’s hopeful that the vast majority of those people are “safe and sound.”
Residents still trapped are encouraged to use white sheets, reflective mirrors, flares, and signal fires to get the attention of the pilots, and to have a bag of medications, clothes, and other important items ready for when help arrives.
In other locations, emergency officials are saying that at least 1,000 people in Larimer County were still waiting to be rescued, but adverse weather conditions had grounded helicopters and supply drops.
According to Type 2 Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team commander Shane Del Grosso, many people have already made contact with requests for evacuations, but that authorities were in a “waiting game” due to the rain.
Since last Monday, almost 15 inches of rain have been dumped on parts of Colorado. Rescuers had a brief break on Saturday, but Sunday brought – you guessed it – more rain. Larimer County got about 4 more inches and a low-hanging fog that made rescues by helicopter impossible.
Yesterday afternoon, there was a point at which over 50 Colorado National Guardsmen, first responders, and civilians had to be rescued when the tactical trucks they were driving were stopped by rising waters in Lyons, CO. Thirty-six of them were picked up in helicopters by the U.S. Army before the weather got bad enough to stop the operation altogether. The remaining 15, which are all first responders and Guardsmen, were waiting it out on higher ground.
According to the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office, 16 helicopters were brought in to help with rescue efforts, but only ground crews were able to operate on Sunday. Their crews are hoping to give airlifts to residents still stranded in Longmont, Fort Collins, and Weld County.
The toll the flooding has taken in Colorado is staggering: Flooding has impacted parts of 15 counties, 17,494 homes have been damaged, 1,502 homes are destroyed and 11,700 people have been ordered to evacuate.
As of last night, 1,253 people remain unaccounted for, but officials said the number will fluctuate as stranded residents re-establish communication with family, friends and authorities.
The Colorado Office of Emergency Management spokeswoman Micki Trost told the Associated Press that the numbers were reported by affected counties and compiled by the state agency.
The Larimer County Sheriff’s office said that FEMA is bringing in two 80-person search and rescue teams to help with operations.
People who are still in some Colorado mountain towns that have been isolated by the flooding are being warned by rescue teams against staying there, telling them that they could face weeks without basic supplies – including running water and electricity.
When helicopters and truck convoys of the National Guard carried that warning into paralyzed canyon communities, thousands of stranded residents were more than willing to escape the foothills. But not everyone was willing to go ; Dozens of people in Jamestown, for instance, wanted to stay to watch over their homes. Authorities made it clear to them that should they choose not to go, they may not get another chance to leave for a while. Rescuers will not being going back for people who insist on staying, Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said.
“We’re not trying to force anyone from their home. We’re not trying to be forceful, but we’re trying to be very factual and definitive about the consequences of their decision, and we hope that they will come down,” Pelle said.
There was a report in Larimer County on Sunday that an 80-year-old woman in Cedar Grove was injured and unable to leave her home when floodwaters started rising. When her friends returned with help, the home was already gone, washed away by the floodwaters. She is presumed dead.
Another 60-year-old woman was reported missing and presumed dead on Saturday.
“I expect that we’re going to continue to receive reports of confirmed missing and confirmed fatalities throughout the next several days,” Larimer County sheriff’s spokesman John Schulz said.
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