Break in rains help Colorado flood rescue efforts

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The death toll from the massive flooding along Colorado's Front Range grew to eight Monday as search-and-rescue operations intensified and the storms that have pummeled the state for a week began to subside.
State emergency officials did not release names or details about the latest victims. Three deaths were confirmed in Boulder County and two in El Paso County, and two are presumed dead in Larimer County.
Hundreds of residents remain unaccounted for, but the state's earlier estimate of more than 1,250 missing was expected to be significantly lowered after Larimer County officials reported about 400 missing, down from earlier state estimates of about 1,000. Exact numbers remain elusive, since many residents live in isolated or hard-to-reach mountain communities where scores of bridges and roads have been washed out and telephone, cellphone and Internet service has been disrupted for several days.
The National Weather Service expected warmer, drier conditions in the state Monday with rain ending at night. Yet officials warned there is still potential for flash flooding in and near saturated foothills late Monday afternoon into early evening, as lingering air moisture combined with warmer temperatures could cause scattered thunderstorms.
More than 1,200 people were rescued by vehicles and helicopters Saturday, but 16 rescue helicopters were grounded Sunday after some parts of flooded areas got up to 4 inches of new rain. After seven straight days of rain, some regions have gotten up to 20 inches of rainfall, as much as falls in a typical year.
Colorado National Guard Lt. James Goff says 19 helicopters are available for search-and-rescue. The air rescue operation is already one of the nation's largest since Hurricane Katrina, but has been hampered by steady rains and foggy conditions. As the weather breaks, officials urged those unable to communicate by phone to signal helicopters with sheets, mirrors, flares and signal fires.
Flooding even trapped first responders. In Lyons, 15 miles north of Boulder, the Colorado National Guard said 15 rescuers, including members of their unit, were stranded, along with about 45 other rescuers and civilians stopped by rising waters that left them cut off during a land evacuation Sunday.
State transportation officials say up to 50 highway bridges have been destroyed or seriously damaged.
Craig Fugate, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, met with Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper in Denver on Monday to help coordinate the federal government's recovery work. Fifteen counties have been flooded. Boulder County, the hardest-hit in the state, as well as Adams, Weld and Larimer counties, qualify for FEMA aid. Arapahoe, Broomfield, Clear Creek, Denver, El Paso, Fremont, Jefferson, Logan, Morgan, Pueblo and Washington counties are considered disaster areas and still qualify for emergency aid from the state.
More than 3,000 families had registered for FEMA aid, Fugate said.Those seeking assistance can register at 1-800-621-FEMA or
Boulder County, with four of the state's flood-related fatalities and widespread damage from flooded creeks, still has at least 235 residents unaccounted for.
"Things look better today — the sun is coming out today,'' Boulder Mayor Matthew Applebaum said. "But there is a huge amount of cleanup and repair that people will deal with for a long time. We still haven't entirely gotten a handle" on the damage.
About 1,500 homes were destroyed by flooding and 17,500 were damaged, according to initial estimates.
Hickenlooper said it's likely that the death toll could rise as rescue operations expand.
FEMA is sending two 80-person search-and-rescue teams to assist rescue efforts.
In Estes Park, Town Manager Frank Lancaster said floods coated the downtown area with mud, washed out many roads and destroyed a large part of the town's sewer system. Raw sewage is flowing into creeks and downstream into the Big Thompson River, which flooded in 1976 and killed more than 140 people.
Some roads are so badly destroyed that several neighborhoods, including the Fish Creek area, may have to remain evacuated over the winter. He said residents who have been evacuated cannot return anytime soon, and workers can't even get into the town. Lancaster said some residents have been joking their town has found itself inside the restricted area of the TV show The Dome.
Floods destroyed U.S. Highway 34, the main access route to Estes Park at the gateway to the popular Rocky Mountain National Park.
The shortest vehicle route into Estes Park now requires a 140-mile detour. Lancaster said the Estes Park region is heavily dependent on tourism: Its year-round population of about 11,000 swells to 50,000 during the summer and fall.
"The biggest thing we need is to get that road fixed," he said. "We need to get back on the map. We need that road. We don't want to be the tourist town nobody can get to."
Contributing: KUSA-TV in Denver; Associated Press
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