Colorado evacuations continue as flood crest moves downstream

Tue Sep 17, 2013 2:23pm EDT
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By Keith Coffman

DENVER, Sept 17 (Reuters) - Colorado authorities coping with the aftermath of last week's deadly downpours stepped up the search for victims left stranded in the foothills of the Rockies and evacuations of prairie towns in danger of being swamped as the flood crest moved downstream.

As of Tuesday, eight people were confirmed dead from flash floods triggered by a week of historically heavy rains that drenched a 130-mile (210-km) stretch of the eastern slopes of the Colorado Rockies, with at least 1,600 homes destroyed.

Clusters of towns in the foothills of Larimer and Boulder counties northwest of Denver bore the brunt of the disaster, as floodwaters roared down rain-saturated mountainsides through canyons that funneled the torrent into populated areas below.

The flooding has since progressed downstream and spread out onto the prairie, submerging large tracts of farmland as well as oil and gas well sites in the region as high water rolled eastward toward Nebraska.

The overall flood zone ultimately grew to encompass 17 Colorado counties, including the state's biggest urban centers, across a normally semi-arid region about the size of Delaware.

As the skies finally cleared on Monday, search-and-rescue teams fanned out on foot, in National Guard military vehicles and in helicopters to reach thousands of people cut off in communities isolated by washed-out roads and bridges.

At the same time, emergency management officials in counties further to the east grappled with downstream flooding along the newly engorged South Platte River, which has carried much of the runoff from last week's torrential rains.

Emergency management officials ordered the evacuation early on Tuesday of the tiny riverside town of Crook in northeastern Colorado, where firefighters went door to door asking residents to leave.   Continued...