Colorado floods leave hundreds unaccounted for

Stranded residents brace for a new round of heavy rain

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 15 September, 2013, 8:41pm
UPDATED : Monday, 16 September, 2013, 6:23am

More than 500 stranded victims of major flooding in Colorado braced for a new round of heavy rain on Sunday that is threatening to impede rescue efforts.

Officials noted that many of those unaccounted for may simply not be able to telephone loved ones because of flood damage to many mobile phone towers.

New flash floods were expected to inundate the area, which thousands were forced to evacuate. A flash flood watch was in effect through the evening for the entire Denver metro area, as well as the northern Front Range Foothills and mountains.

On Saturday, large hail the size of peas or even marbles pummelled parts of the city of Aurora, according to local weather reports. A series of thunderstorms also struck the area.

Raging floodwaters in the city of Boulder, already confirmed to have killed at least four people, apparently claimed the life of a fifth on Saturday - a 60-year-old woman swept away in the torrent.

The Larimer County Sheriff’s Office said on Twitter that the woman was “missing presumed dead,” after floodwaters destroyed her house, and officials warned that the toll would likely climb further.

“There might be further loss of life,” Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle told reporters. “It’s certainly a high probability... We’re hoping to reach everyone as soon as possible.”

But some additional help was on the way, with President Barack Obama declaring a major disaster in Colorado and ordering federal aid to support state and local efforts.

“Assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster,” the White House said.

And the Wyoming National Guard was helping the evacuation effort after Governor Matt Mead activated five UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and 20 crew members, the state’s military department said.

In the disaster zone, helicopters circled above submerged houses in a search for survivors in the western US state, with hundreds still missing.

The storms separated some families. A worried Robert Egloff told The Denver Post he has spent the past two days driving from shelter to shelter searching for his parents, both veterans.

“All I know is it’s another bus without my parents on it,” he said after watching friends and family greet evacuees who stepped off buses.

About 350 people were unaccounted for in Larimer County alone, from where about 475 people were evacuated, according to the sheriff’s office.

In neighbouring Boulder County, 231 people were unaccounted for, according to CNN, though authorities cautioned that the numbers were fluctuating.

“It is no doubt an epic event,” Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway told The Denver Post. “It is a once in 500 years or 1,000 years situation.”

Search and rescue teams are being deployed to assess the situation and contact stranded residents.

The US National Guard provided seven helicopters to help get people out of danger.

Some 1,200 residents were pulled out of the Pinewood Springs area by the National Guard and Fort Carson personnel, state authorities said on Twitter.

But many others are still awaiting rescue, which authorities said could take days for some.

Impassable roads forced authorities to use a helicopter to evacuate 200 residents from Jamestown, northwest of Boulder, according to news reports.

Residents’ furry friends were also stranded by the torrential rains.

“Our victims’ advocates told me tonight there were almost as many pets as people getting off the evacuation helicopters today,” the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office tweeted.

Officials said there were widespread power outages as streets became raging rivers after the state received months’ worth of rain in just a few days.

Rain began pelting the state earlier this week, in Boulder, which saw 18.3 centimetres of precipitation in about 15 hours beginning on Wednesday night, with more downpours likely over the weekend.

Pictures from helicopter cameras showed heavy rain had reduced the towns of Jamestown, Lyons and Longmont to little more than islands, with ready-to-eat meals being dropped to stranded, anxious residents below.