Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 25 October 2014

Rain hampers floods search effort

A local resident gets help from emergency responders after floods left homes and infrastructure in a shambles in Colorado (AP)
A car passes through floodwater in Boulder, Colorado (AP)

The search for people stranded from the Rocky Mountain foothills to the plains of northeastern Colorado has grown more difficult, with a new wave of rain hampering airlifts from the flooded areas still out of reach.

From the mountain communities east to the plains city of Fort Morgan, numerous pockets of individuals remained cut off by the flooding. With rain impacting helicopter searches, rescuers trekked by ground up dangerous canyon roads to reach some of those homes isolated since Wednesday.

More than 1,750 people and 300 pets have already been rescued from communities and individual homes swamped by overflowing rivers and streams. The surging waters have been deadly, with four people confirmed dead and two more missing and presumed dead after their homes were swept away.

Hundreds of people have still not been heard from, but with phone service being restored to some of the areas over the weekend, officials hoped that number would drop as they contacted more stranded people. The additional rain falling on ground that has been saturated by water since Wednesday created the risk of more flash flooding and mud slides, according to the National Weather Service.

Days of rain and floods have transformed the mountain communities in Colorado's Rocky Mountain foothills from a paradise for backpackers and nature lovers into a disaster area with little in the way of supplies or services. Roadways have crumbled, scenic bridges are destroyed, and most shops are closed.

In Lyons, the cars that normally clog main street have been replaced by military supply trucks. Restaurateurs and grocers in Lyons were distributing food to their neighbours as others arrived in groups carrying supplies.

In Estes Park, some 20 miles from Lyons, hundreds of homes and cabins were empty in the town that is a gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. High water still covered several low-lying streets. Where the river had receded, it had left behind up to a foot of mud. Estes Park town administrator Frank Lancaster said visitors who would normally flock there during the golden September days should stay away for at least a month, but it could take a year or longer for many of the mountain roadways to be repaired.

Meanwhile, people were still trapped, the nearby hamlet of Glen Haven has been "destroyed" and the continuing rain threatened a new round of flooding, he said. "We are all crossing our fingers and praying," Mr Lancaster said. Ironically, the massive Estes Ark - a three-story former toy store designed to look like Noah's Ark - was high and dry. "I don't know if it's open anymore, but soon it's going to be our only way out," joked Carly Blankfein.

In Boulder, often called America's fittest town, Mayor Matt Appelbaum warned people to stay out of the wide-open spaces that ring the city. "I know that people are eager to get out there again, but it's truly unsafe." he said. "Places that I've known and loved for 30 years are gone."

Meanwhile, in the neighbouring state of New Mexico, another round of rain moved across the state, renewing the threat of heavy run-off from already saturated soils and flooding in low areas as residents faced a major cleanup effort from damage left in the wake of days of relentless rain. The National Weather Service issued a flash flood watch for much of central and northern New Mexico. The flooding killed at least one person - a man who died after his car was submerged when his car was washed into a ravine and carried nearly a mile from the road.

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