As flooding spreads to 15 counties now, the community is devastated as the official number of people unaccounted for in the deadly floods that have ravaged the area since last Wednesday has risen to 1,254 people.
Many of them have been reported “unreachable” by family members, which doesn’t necessarily mean that they have died, but the number is staggering, nonetheless.
“We don’t expect to find 1,254 fatalities,” said Micki Trost, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.
Five deaths have so far been confirmed since the rain began falling Wednesday evening: Three in Boulder County, one in Larimer County, and one in El Paso county. However, officials are warning that the number could rise. An 80-year-old woman in Cedar Grove (in Larimer County) is missing and presumed dead, as witnesses saw her home being washed away by the flooded Big Thompson River. She was injured and unable to leave her home Friday night. The same night, the house of another victim, a 60-year-old woman, was also destroyed by the river ; She is also presumed dead.
Some people have no idea what’s happened to their relatives. As USA Today reports:
A Dallas man saw a photo of his mother’s Big Thompson Canyon home in ruins on a Denver TV website. “I don’t know that she’s even OK,” Rob Clements told The Coloradoan about his mother, Libby Orr, 73, with whom he last spoke on Thursday. “I presume she is. But her house, if not completely gone, fell into the river and is most of the way gone.”
Roads and bridges have been destroyed by the dozens, and crews are assessing the extent of the damage, which will cost “hundreds of millions” of dollars to repair, according to Amy Ford, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Transportation.
The actual number of roads that have been damaged and/or destroyed is unknown at this point. Sections of highways (34, 36, and 72) and various mountain roads have been heavily damaged, Ford said.
Thirty highway bridges are destroyed, 20 are seriously damaged, and transportation officials suspect 20 others are damaged.
“Our first priority is looking at roads to repair,” Ford said. “We’re also looking at roadways near water that weren’t closed to make sure they are safe.”
Recovery “will take weeks, if not months,” she said.
Long-time Boulder resident Tom Kahn said there were some mudslides in his neighborhood near the base of a mountain that overlooks the city of Boulder, but his house did not suffer any major damage. Water “poured” into some nearby houses, he said.
“It’s very sad,” said Kahn, a Realtor who has lived in Boulder since 1967. “Our beautiful Boulder is hammered. Mother Nature wins.”
He said Four Mile Canyon, one of several canyons where people live outside of Boulder, is “a total wipeout.”
“Life goes on, but it’s so heartbreaking.”
All in all, about 14,500 residents in 15 counties have sought refuge in 26 shelters after being evacuated from their respective homes, and many displaced residents are staying with family, friends, and in hotels.
Rain was on and off Saturday, and 4 inches of rain were expected today.
Gov. John Hickenlooper said today he expects the weather to clear up Monday morning or afternoon.
The state has “a lot of broken roads and broken bridges, but we don’t have broken spirits,” he said.
Hickenlooper said that although the flood-affected area is growing, helicopters have rescued more than 2,000 people in flooded areas already and are working basically non-stop to rescue more.
ABC News is reporting that warnings are being issued to those who refuse to leave their homes:
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, Crone said.
“We lost every bridge crossing east to west and we are cut in half,” he said.
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.
Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said those people would not be forced to leave, but they have been warned that rescuers will not return for those who choose to stay.
Flooding has so far affected the foothills on the eastern slope of the Rockies, from Fort Collins to Canon City. The hardest-hit areas, of course, are Boulder and Larimer in the north and El Paso in the south.
Unfortunately for Colorado students, the state’s two biggest universities are in the two northern counties most affected by the flooding: The University of Colorado in Boulder and Colorado State University in Fort Collins.
In El Paso County, the Manitou Springs area has been more affected than Colorado Springs. Floodwaters have even spread east to the Great Plains in eastern Colorado, with an emergency shelter being set up in Sterling, which is about 100 miles east of Fort Collins and the Rocky Mountain foothills.
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