A break in the weather allowed search and rescue operations to resume
in flood-stricken parts of Colorado. Seven people have died;
1,253 are unaccounted for. For many, air-lifts are the only way out.
By Amanda Paulson
BOULDER, COLO. — Boulder, Colo., residents got a welcome sight
morning: A little before , the sun poked through the clouds,
clearing the way for a major rescue operation, with more than 1,000
people being deployed by air and on foot, to help evacuate the
stranded and to search for the 1,253 still unaccounted for.
Seven deaths are confirmed so far, but that number may rise, officials
warn, as efforts intensify to find missing people.
Through morning local time, hundreds of Colorado National
Guardsmen and active-duty Army soldiers from the Fourth Infantry
Division had rescued nearly 2,200 people and about 500 pets. Although
operations were largely at a halt , because of heavy rain,
rescuers saved 80 people through ground operations, says Lt. James
Goff of the Colorado National Guard.
“Right now, we’re trying to get our priorities together for flights,”
says Goff, noting that the Guard has 19 helicopters ready to resume
operations in the foothills west of Boulder. By late morning,
Blackhawk and Chinook helicopters were crisscrossing the skies above
Boulder, transporting stranded residents out of the mountains.
Among those air-lifted out over the weekend were 85 fifth-graders and
14 adults who had been stranded at an outdoor education center in
Jamestown, one of the mountain towns hardest hit by the flooding and
now unreachable by road.
Evacuation by air became the best option after washed-out roads and
bridges left thousands of people in the hills and canyons west of
Boulder — many without electricity, or with flood-damaged homes — with
no other quick way out.
Authorities are asking stranded residents to signal to passing
helicopters by waving a light-colored cloth; placing a large,
light-colored cloth or sheet on their roofs; waving flares; using
mirrors to reflect sunlight; or lighting safe signal fires, and to
have a “go bag” with essentials prepared to take with them.
Meanwhile, finding the hundreds of people still unaccounted for
remains a top priority , according to the Boulder Office of
Emergency Management. Five teams of detectives from the Boulder County
sheriff’s office are “going out in the field, going door-to-door as
the situation allows, and comparing the data with information from
shelters, emergency response evacuations, and other sources,” the
office said in a release.
The number of people listed as “unaccounted for” has been fluctuating,
and officials emphasize that those people are not necessarily
considered to be “missing.”
Often, when people get displaced suddenly, “they’re OK, they don’t
think anybody is concerned about them,” said FEMA Administrator Craig
Fugate during a press conference , as he urged people to call in
and let authorities know they are safe. “That will help the governor’s
team focus on the ones we’ve got to look for,” he said.
Even as search and rescue operations resume, state and county
officials are beginning to survey the extent of the damage and to
prioritize rebuilding and cleanup — including getting some major roads
So far, some 14,500 people have been evacuated from flooded areas, and
the state has said at least 1,500 residences were destroyed and some
17,500 were damaged. The state Department of Transportation said 20
state bridges were destroyed and 30 more need repair. But the broader
figure — taking into account county, city, and private bridges that
were damaged — is between 80 and 100, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper
said in an interview with NBC News .
“Today we continue to be focused on the search and recovery, and
that’s our highest priority…, but even as we’re doing do that, it’s
not too early to be planning what the recovery is going to look like,”
Governor Hickenlooper said in a press conference with FEMA’s
The light drizzle that fell over Boulder through morning pushed
the precipitation total to a yearly record. More than 30 inches of
moisture have fallen in Boulder to date, breaking the previous annual
record of 29.93 inches, set in 1995 — with more than three months left
in the year.
Nearly 15 inches of that total fell last week.