UPDATE 1-Colorado evacuations continue as flood crest moves downstream

Tue Sep 17, 2013 10:30pm EDT
 
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By Keith Coffman

DENVER, Sept 17 (Reuters) - Colorado officials coping with devastation from last week's torrential downpours struggled on Tuesday to reach the last pockets of known survivors left stranded by flash floods that killed least eight people in the foothills of the Rockies.

Meanwhile, emergency officials pressed on with evacuations of prairie towns downstream from the initial disaster as the crest of the flood-engorged South Platte River rolled eastward toward Nebraska, inundating farmland along the way.

At least 1,700 homes were destroyed - most of those in hard-hit Larimer County - and an estimated 16,300 dwellings were damaged throughout the flood zone, according to preliminary property loss totals on Tuesday.

Even as evacuees continued to crowd into emergency shelters, more than 6,400 Colorado flood survivors have already applied for federal disaster assistance, the Federal Emergency Management Agency reported.

In what National Weather Service meteorologists called the most sustained and intense rainstorm to hit the normally semi-arid region in four decades, a tropical-like low-pressure system drenched a 130-mile (210-km) stretch of the eastern slopes of the Colorado Rockies with unrelenting showers for a week, starting last Monday night.

Within three days, torrents of runoff were gushing down rain-saturated mountainsides through canyons that funneled floodwaters straight into populated areas below. Foothill towns clustered at the base of Colorado's so-called Front Range in Larimer and Boulder counties northwest of Denver bore the brunt of the deluge.

The overall flood zone has since grown to encompass 17 Colorado counties, including the state's biggest urban centers, across a region about the size of Delaware.   Continued...