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Colorado flood rescuers taking search into remote communities

September 17, 2013|By Tony Barboza and Matt Pearce

BOULDER, Colo. -- Search teams resumed their efforts Tuesday to rescue hundreds of people still stranded by the Colorado flood waters as the death toll climbed to eight.

Although hundreds of residents remain unaccounted for, according to state officials, the number has fallen in recent days to 648, state officials said.

Harder to know is the number of people waiting to be rescued, Liz Donaghey, a spokeswoman for the Boulder office of Emergency Management, said by telephone on Tuesday.

“We don’t know many people need help until we get to them,” she said. “Some people chose to stay in Lyons and Jamestown,” rural communities that have been severely damaged and isolated by the floods. Many of those who stayed now want to leave, she said.

A team of rescuers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency prepared to travel by vehicle into the foothills of Boulder County hoping to reach isolated areas such as Left Hand Canyon to search homes and bring out residents. 

“A lot of them are cut off,” said Niko King, an agency information officer. “You can’t get to them because roads are done.”

In some cases, even when teams reach people, “They don’t want to go, they have generators, they have food but the infrastructure is gone,” King said. The teams try to convince people to leave.

The rains that have plagued the eastern portion of the state have finally stopped, allowing some of the approximately 11,750 evacuees to return.  Seventeen counties are trying to cope with the damage from the waters which will probably cost in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Roadblocks and busted bridges continued to congest the flood-afflicted parts of the state as a morning fog settled over some impacted areas, presenting a hazard for drivers trying to brave the roads — and frustrating some emergency officials.

“We’re still dealing with people driving around roadblocks,” said Steve Kuzik, a firefighter for the city of Greeley. On Monday, one driver ignored road warnings.

“He just drove around the roadblock and drove over a bridge that wasn’t there anymore,” Kuzik said.

Photos from the Weld County Sheriff's Office showed a shiny blue compact car wedged nose-down into a large breach in the bridge, with the vehicle at least spared from going into the water or down a crevasse. Kuzik didn't know the driver's condition.

Officials said most of those evacuated have found new places to stay with families or friends, but 536 people remain in the 24 shelters that have opened around the region. About 19,000 homes have been damaged or destroyed.

More than 35 roads have been washed away by raging floodwaters. Glenhaven, a small town in the mountains, was devastated with gas lines and sewers demolished.

Lyons, a town of 1,500 to 2,000, is almost completely abandoned,  and hundreds of homes around Estes Park, next to Rocky Mountain National Park, could be uninhabitable for months, officials have said.

Colorado officials have now confirmed at least eight people have died or are missing and presumed dead. That includes three in Boulder County, two in Larimer County, and two in El Paso County. The location of the eighth body was not available.

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Times staff writer Michael Muskal contributed from Los Angeles.

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