Sunday, February 18, 2018

7 dead, flooded Colorado towns begin slow cleanup process

HYGIENE, Colo. — Weary Colorado evacuees have begun returning home after days of rain and flooding, but Monday's clearing skies and receding waters revealed only more heartbreak: toppled houses, upended vehicles and a stinking layer of muck covering everything.

Rescuers grounded by weekend rains took advantage of the break in the weather to resume searches for people still stranded, with 21 helicopters fanning out over the mountainsides and the plains to drop supplies and airlift those who need help.

The number of dead and missing people was difficult to pinpoint. State emergency officials reported the death toll at seven Monday, but local officials said it was four, with two women missing and presumed dead. Authorities also recovered a body from a Colorado Springs creek Monday, but investigators can't say yet if the death is related to flooding.

The number of missing people was dropping as the state's count fell Monday from around 1,200 to about half that. State officials hoped the overall number would continue to drop with rescuers reaching more people and phone service being restored.

The town of Lyons was almost completely abandoned. Emergency crews gave the few remaining residents, mostly wandering Main Street looking for status updates, a final warning to leave Sunday.

Most of the town's trailer parks were completely destroyed. One angry man was throwing his possessions one by one into the river rushing along one side of his trailer Sunday, watching the brown water carry them away while drinking a beer.

Helicopters had evacuated more than 100 stranded residents in Larimer County by midafternoon Monday, said Chuck Russell, a spokesman for the federal incident command helping with the response.

Russell said he expected helicopter crews would evacuate a total of up to 400 by the end of the day and perhaps twice that number Tuesday.

Once the evacuations are complete, officials said, it could take weeks or even months to search through flood-ravaged areas looking for people who died.

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