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Some good news in Colorado: Number of missing falls sharply

September 19, 2013|By Matt Stevens

After a day of “intense and comprehensive” work by detectives, the number of Colorado residents unaccounted for in flood-damaged communities fell sharply, state officials said.

The Colorado Office of Emergency Management reports that 201 people  were missing as of late Wednesday night. The number was down from more than 300 the day before, and about 1,200 at its peak.

Boulder County, one of 17 counties hit hard by flooding, reported the biggest drop with four people missing, down from 109 Tuesday night.

PHOTOS: Colorado floods

When the new numbers were released, “Everyone in the emergency operations center did the ‘woo ho!’ ” said Boulder County spokeswoman Barbara Halpin. “It’s a huge sigh of relief for us. We were concerned that higher number would be with us for a while.”

The state reports that the remaining 197 missing residents come from hard-hit Larimer County. Micki Trost, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Office of Emergency Management, said the number of residents who are not accounted for is dropping slowly as people are moving into transitional housing and are being allowed back into the areas where they lived.

Halpin said Boulder County detectives spent hours conducting detailed searches that involved visiting specific addresses and reminding some people who remained in their homes to check in with officials in case they were unknowingly listed as missing.

Authorities are turning their attention to roads that were damaged or wiped out during the flooding, and providing shelter, food and other basic necessities to those in need, she said.

Officials believe that anyone who needed to evacuate did so. The  helicopter airlifts -- believed to be the largest such operation since Hurricane Katrina -- and large vehicle rescues have all but ended.

Most of the disaster response teams that came in are “kind of packing up to go,” she said. 

Trost said preliminary estimates put the number of damaged homes statewide at more than 16,000 and the number of destroyed homes at more than 1,800.

The flooding brought on by days of historic rain across the most populous areas of the state killed at least six people.

A series of freak meteorological events conspired to create the disaster that will linger in places like Boulder and Larimer counties.

Though it is relatively arid, the Front Range has long been known as the region in the state with the highest flood risk. The area sits at the base of the Rocky Mountains, where creeks that drain vast and steep mountain watersheds let out near populated areas.

The rain began Sept. 9 and continued in a steady drumbeat. For example, from Sept. 9 to Sept. 13, Boulder recorded 14.62 inches of rain, about nine times its usual monthly total.

“We’ve been preparing for this for a long time,” Halpin  said. “But we never expected it to be this bad.”  

Trost, the Office of Emergency Management spokeswoman, said the center “will be operating for quite a long time.”

ALSO:

Wet, muddy and broken: Photos from ravaged Colorado

New woes hit Colorado: Contaminated floodwaters, oil spill

Oklahoma chemical plant explosions force evacuations; no injuries  

Twitter: @MattStevensLAT

matt.stevens@latimes.com

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