December 9, 2013
Clearing weather offers relief in flood-hit Colorado as thousands still stranded
Drier weather after historic floods triggered by seven straight days of rain held out hope for relief in Colorado, where hundreds of people were still stranded or displaced today.
At least five people were confirmed dead in the floods that hit an area nearly the size of Delaware, wiping out roads and bridges and destroying about 1,500 homes, according to Colorado Office of Emergency Management officials.
Micki Trost, a spokeswoman for the emergency office, said the death toll may still rise, but the number of people unaccounted for had dropped below 1,000 today because of ongoing search-and-rescue efforts.
Teams of rescue workers were fanning across flood-hit portions of the state.
"They'll take advantage of the weather today and help out everyone they can," Trost said. "We hope that those weather forecasts stay in our favor."
The weather began to clear overnight, and only a light drizzle and patchy fog were left to hamper helicopter rescue missions early on Monday, according to Byron Louis of the National Weather Service office in Boulder.
The air rescue operations are the biggest in the United States since Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005, National Guard officials said.
Louis said some areas had been drenched by as much as 16 inches of rain in just three days, the average for an entire year.
"I've been in this office for 30-plus years, and I've never seen this type of rain, never," he said.
President Barack Obama declared the area a major disaster over the weekend, freeing up federal funds and resources to aid state and local governments.
US Army and National Guard troops have rescued 1,750 people cut off by washed-out roads in the mountain canyons of Boulder and Larimer counties, Army spokesman Major Earl Brown said in a statement.
State officials would be unable to assess the overall damage until rescue efforts were complete and the floodwaters receded, said Trost, the Colorado Office of Emergency Management spokeswoman.