More rain grounds flood airlifts
The search for people stranded from the Rocky Mountain foothills to the plains of north-eastern Colorado grew more difficult with a new wave of rain grounding airlifts from flooded areas still out of reach.
From the mountain communities east to the plains city of Fort Morgan, numerous pockets of individuals remained cut off by the flooding. With rain halting helicopter searches, rescuers trekked by ground up dangerous canyon roads to reach some of those homes isolated since Wednesday.
More than 1,750 people and 300 pets have already been rescued from communities and individual homes swamped by overflowing rivers and streams. The surging waters have been deadly, with four people confirmed dead and two more missing and presumed dead after their homes were swept away.
Some 1,500 homes have been destroyed and about 17,500 have been damaged, according to an initial estimate released by the Colorado Office of Emergency Management on its website. In addition, 11,700 people have left their homes, and a total of 1,253 people have not been heard from, state emergency officials said. With phone service being 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, but airlifts were grounded because of the rain, Type 2 Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team commander Shane Del Grosso said. 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 by water since Wednesday created the risk of more flash flooding and mudslides, 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.
In Lyons, the cars that normally clog main street have been replaced by military supply trucks. Restaurateurs and grocers in Lyons were distributing food to their neighbours as others arrived in groups carrying supplies.
In Estes Park, some 20 miles from Lyons, hundreds of homes and cabins were empty in the town that is a gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. High water still covered several low-lying streets. Where the river had receded, it had left behind up to 1ft of mud. Estes Park town administrator Frank Lancaster said visitors who would normally flock there during the golden September days should stay away for at least a month, but it could take a year or longer for many of the mountain roadways to be repaired.
Meanwhile, people were still trapped, the nearby hamlet of Glen Haven has been "destroyed" and the continuing rain threatened a new round of flooding, he said. "We are all crossing our fingers and praying" Mr Lancaster said.
Ironically, the massive Estes Ark - a former toy store two storeys high designed to look like Noah's Ark - was high and dry. "I don't know if it's open anymore, but soon it's going to be our only way out," joked Carly Blankfein.