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SHAKE AND BLOW
Death toll from Colorado floods rises to seven
by Staff Writers
Los Angeles (AFP) Sept 16, 2013


Colorado floods leave up to 500 unaccounted for
Denver (AFP) Sept 16, 2013 - More torrential rain grounded helicopters in the US state of Colorado on Sunday, slowing the search for up to 500 people unaccounted for after several days of massive flooding.

Officials suggested many of the victims may simply not be able to call loved ones because of damage to cell phone towers or power outages.

"But we're still bracing," Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper told CNN. "There are many, many homes that have been destroyed. A number have been collapsed and we haven't been in them yet."

Hickenlooper put the number unaccounted for state-wide at 500, but Boulder Sheriff Joe Pelle, in the hardest-hit region, said the numbers were changing rapidly: by mid-afternoon it had been cut to 326, from 431 earlier.

It was unclear if those figures included people still missing in other parts of the state.

"Finding the people who are unaccounted for is one of the highest priorities, and five teams of Boulder County Sheriff's Office detectives are dedicated full-time to this task," said Pelle, in an afternoon update posted by the Boulder Office of Emergency Management.

Thousands have been evacuated after torrential downpours washed away roads and inundated communities, claiming at least six lives.

Brigadier General Peter Byrne and his assigned forces of almost 560 Colorado and Wyoming National Guardsmen have evacuated more than 2,100 people, Pentagon spokesman George Little said.

Active duty forces are also engaged in flood relief efforts under direction of US Northern Command, while seven helicopters from the 4th Infantry Division at Fort Carson have aided search-and-rescue operations.

"This cooperative effort among active and reserve forces to protect lives in Colorado's flood ravaged areas is a testament to the department's ability to provide critical and timely support to FEMA and first responders during a domestic crisis," Little said in a statement.

Rain began pelting the western state earlier this week, with Boulder especially hard hit, seeing 7.2 inches (18.3 centimeters) of precipitation in about 15 hours starting Wednesday night.

And with more downpours affecting already flood-ravaged areas, the situation could get even worse, Hickenlooper said.

With the ground saturated, "that's going to just really magnify the problems we've had so far," he said in reference to Boulder County.

"We're still trying to evacuate people," Hickenlooper said, adding that almost 2,000 residents had been moved out of Boulder alone.

Liz Donaghey, a spokeswoman for the Boulder Office of Emergency Management, said poor visibility had grounded several US National Guard helicopters deployed to the area to help people get out of danger.

"At this point it is a big concern with the weather," she told CNN.

On Saturday, hail the size of peas or even marbles pummeled parts of the city of Aurora, according to local weather reports. A series of thunderstorms also struck the area.

Raging floodwaters -- already presumed to have killed at least five people -- apparently claimed the life of a sixth.

The latest casualty was an 80-year-old woman who was injured and couldn't get out of her home, The Denver Post reported.

"There might be further loss of life," Sheriff Pelle told reporters. "It's certainly a high probability... We're hoping to reach everyone as soon as possible."

President Barack Obama has declared a major disaster in Colorado and ordered federal aid to support state and local efforts.

Hickenlooper called the widespread flooding "a heck of a storm."

"We've got a lot of broken roads & bridges, but we don't have any broken spirits," he said on Twitter.

The confirmed death toll from massive floods in the US state of Colorado has risen to seven, while more than 600 people remain unaccounted for, officials said Monday.

Helicopters resumed search and rescue missions, helped by clearer weather after days of torrential rain that has left over 1,500 homes destroyed and more than 17,000 damaged.

Five teams from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) are bolstering hundreds of state and local officers trying to reach hundreds of residents stranded by the floods, centered on Boulder County north of Denver.

"We have a strong opportunity here, with FEMA's help, to come out of this whole sitaution with a strogner infrastructure," Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper told a press briefing.

On Sunday, heavy rain prevented helicopters from taking off for most of the day as officials put the number of people unaccounted for at more than 1,200 across the western state.

But on Monday there was even blue sky in places, allowing some 21 helicopters to take to the air.

"We are hoping to take advantage of the weather today and get those rescue operations complete," spokeswoman Micki Trost of the Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management was quoted as saying by the Denver Post.

In all seven people have died, including three in Boulder County, two in El Paso County and two missing presumed dead in Larimer County, said the Colorado Office of Emergency management (COEM) in its latest update.

The number of people unaccounted for stood at 658 Monday it said, while stressing that the number was "approximate and changing" as rescue crews gained access to more places, and as stranded people got in touch with authorities to confirm they were alright.

In all 11,700 people have been evacuated, the COEM said. A total of 17,994 residential structures have been damaged, and 1,502 destroyed.

Many of the missing may simply be unable to report their whereabouts, but Hickenlooper warned that the death toll may increase. "There are many, many homes that have been destroyed," he said.

Rain began pelting the western state early last week, with Boulder especially hard hit, seeing 7.2 inches (18.3 centimeters) of precipitation in about 15 hours starting Wednesday night.

Flash floods have afflicted 15 counties down a 200-mile north-south section of the Front Range, where the Rocky Mountains meet the Great Plains, the Colorado Office of Emergency Management said.

"We've got a heck of a lot of communities dealing with a heck of a lot of water," Jennifer Finch, a spokeswoman for Weld County northeast of Boulder, told Denver Channel 7 News on Sunday.

On Sunday, traffic on Interstate 25, Colorado's main north-south thoroughfare just east of the mountain range, was brought to a halt by water covering two of the three southbound lanes, according to an AFP correspondent on the road.

President Barack Obama has declared a major disaster in Colorado and ordered federal aid to support state and local efforts. Hickenlooper called the widespread flooding "a heck of a storm."

Although skies were clearer Monday, weather forecasters warned that scattered storms could still dump up to an inch of rain in less than 30 minutes, according to KUSA-TV.

Drier, warmer weather conditions are due to return to the battered state on Tuesday, lasting through to Thursday when there is a chance of showers through the region, it said.

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