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Number of missing declines, weather brightens in Colorado flood zone

September 20, 2013|By Michael Muskal
  • People walk through a severely flooded neighborhood in Lyons, Colo. Residents displaced by last week's flooding in the Colorado canyon town were allowed past National Guard roadblocks Thursday.
People walk through a severely flooded neighborhood in Lyons, Colo. Residents… (Chris Schneider / AP )

A week ago, Colorado officials were facing the possibility of hundreds of people dead from massive flooding. But as search and rescue operations continue, the picture is looking brighter, as is the weather forecast.

The latest report by state and local officials has placed the number of missing or unaccounted for at about 80 on Friday, down from 1,200 from last week when torrential rains dumped a year’s worth of rain on the eastern portion of Colorado in just days. Officials have also said that the majority of those missing would eventually check in and be counted.

The official number of dead has varied as more information became available. On Friday, the state said seven were confirmed dead. And three more people are missing and presumed dead.

At the flooding's peak, about 12,000 people were ordered out of the flood zone that encompassed 17 counties or about 4,500 square miles. By Friday, after days of sunshine and water flowing into rivers moving eastward, about 1,900 square miles were still flooded, an area larger than Rhode Island. At the height of flooding Sept. 12, the area under water was about the size of Connecticut.

Officials have carried out more than 3,000 rescues, many by helicopters which were still flying on Friday. In Larimer County, one of the areas hardest hit, 1,191 people were rescued by Friday, according to the sheriff’s office. About 367 people decided not to be evacuated and have chosen to remain in their homes.

Officials have turned to the task of taking inventory of the damage and starting the recovery work.

State figures places the number of damaged and destroyed homes at 17,983 and the number of commercial properties at 968.

Two hundred miles of state highways and roads have been damaged by floodwaters, along with 50 bridges. It will cost $135 million just to start infrastructure repairs, state officials said. Completion will take hundreds of millions of dollars more.

State and federal officials have declared emergencies in 17 counties. Gov. John Hickenlooper on Friday signed an executive order adding $20 million for flood-related efforts.

The weather is expected to remain clear through the weekend and into the early part of next week. Vice President Joe Biden is scheduled to visit Colorado on Monday.

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