Colorado flood search narrowed to six missing; body found
DENVER - Disaster teams in the flood-stricken foothills of Colorado have accounted for all but half a dozen people in the aftermath of deadly torrential downpours nearly two weeks ago and authorities on Monday reported finding the body of an eighth flood victim.
After rescuing thousands of survivors left stranded in washed-out areas of Larimer and Boulder counties northwest of Denver, emergency management authorities said their focus has shifted to recovery initiatives and thorough damage assessments.
A new burst of heavy rains overnight prompted the National Weather Service to post a flood warning on Monday for the town of Kersey along the engorged South Platte River, east of the city of Greeley, where Vice President Joe Biden planned a visit later in the day.
The worst flooding to strike Colorado in about four decades swept the eastern slopes of the Rockies and prairie farmlands downstream the week before last, causing property losses across 17 counties estimated at $2 billion, including the destruction of at least 1,800 homes.
The confirmed death toll from the flooding rose to eight on Monday when Larimer County officials reported that the body of a 79-year-old flood victim, Evelyn Starner, had been found on Saturday.
Six more Larimer County residents remained listed as unaccounted for - down from 82 on Friday - after search teams reached the last remote, isolated pockets of the flood zone over the weekend, county sheriff's spokesman John Schulz said.
Unless they surface in the next few days, those six are likely to be added to the list of missing and presumed dead, he said.
Starner was one of three Larimer County residents who had been listed as missing and presumed killed after their homes were washed away more than a week ago along the Big Thompson River, in the vicinity of a 1976 flood disaster that claimed more than 140 lives.
Starner's remains were discovered near a ranch on the banks of the river. The bodies of two others believed to have been swept away in Larimer County by the latest flooding have yet to be recovered.
SOME OPT NOT TO LEAVE
Compared with the estimated 1,200 people statewide whose whereabouts were unknown in the immediate aftermath of the disaster, the unaccounted-for roster has fallen sharply as families were reunited, evacuees registered at shelters and survivors turned up in areas initially cut off by the floods.
Schulz said the last 16 people still awaiting evacuation in Larimer County were rescued on Saturday, but nearly 370 others have opted to stay put despite the loss of sewage, fresh running water and other utility services in their areas.
The widespread flooding along so-called Front Range of the Colorado Rockies, a region encompassing the state's most highly populated areas, was unleashed by heavy rains that started Sept. 9 and continued almost unabated for a week.
Days after the deluge began, floodwaters roared off rain-soaked mountainsides through canyons that carried torrents of runoff into communities below, sweeping homes from their foundations, crumbling roads and bridges and initially leaving some 12,000 people stranded.
Floodwaters spread out onto the plains east of the Rockies, swamping farmland along South Platte River, as well as oil and gas production sites in the region, creating a toxic stew of industrial contaminants and wastewater.
Farmers in the northeastern corner of the state were particularly worried about their No. 1 cash crop, corn, which could be lost if water that has inundated low-lying prairie fields fails to drain away before the October harvest.