(Photo: Reuters/Mark Leffingwell)
Colorado's worst flood in decades has left at least four people dead and 172 others unaccounted for, even as thousands were forced to flee their homes and hundreds were rescued by helicopters and trucks Friday. More heavy rain is expected through Sunday, according to the forecast.
As flood waters raged through parts of Colorado, thousands were evacuated by helicopters, military vehicles and boats on Friday. The widespread disaster, which began Wednesday night, has affected life from Pueblo to the Wyoming border. Boulder County and towns along the Front Range of the Rockies north of Denver bore the brunt.
Clear skies briefly helped the National Guard to rescue about 2,000 residents in the Boulder County town of Lyons, using military vehicles and helicopters, Reuters reported. "These individuals are not only coming with just themselves, but with their suitcases and their precious household items along with their pets and everything, all getting loaded in the back of these vehicles," First Lieutenant Skye Robinson, a spokesman for the Colorado National Guard, was quoted as saying.
Several school buses carried hundreds of evacuees from Lyons to the LifeBridge Christian Church in Longmont, several miles east of the worst-hit corners of Boulder, on Friday, The New York Times reported.
The Guard also evacuated the 285 people of Boulder County's Jamestown by helicopter, according to KCNC-TV.
Authorities have reported four deaths so far.
A couple, both 19, swept away in floodwaters after they stopped their car northwest of Boulder. The man's body was recovered Thursday and the woman's body a day later. In Jamestown, a body was found in a collapsed building. Another man drowned in Fountain Creek in Colorado Springs.
The Boulder Office of Emergency Management said 172 people were unaccounted for, explaining that relatives and authorities had not been able to contact them. Phone services were down and the power was out, making communication difficult.
Boulder has received 14.7 inches of rain this month, which is about three times the 1940 record of 5.5 inches.
The floods have covered about 4,500 square miles. "There is water everywhere," Andrew Barth, emergency management spokesman in Boulder County, told Reuters. "We've had several structural collapses. There's mud and muck and debris everywhere. Cars are stranded all over the place."
Gov. John Hickenlooper declared a disaster emergency in 14 counties, which authorized $6 million to pay for flood response and recovery in Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Broomfield, Denver, El Paso, Fremont, Jefferson, Larimer, Logan, Morgan, Pueblo, Washington and Weld, according to Denver Post.
"It's got to be the largest storm that I can imagine in the state's history," Hickenlooper said.
Also on Friday, President Barack Obama also declared an emergency for Boulder, Larimer and El Paso counties. This will enable FEMA to send four rescue teams into the state.
Hundreds of people were evacuated also in New Mexico's Eddy, Sierra and San Miguel counties on Friday, even as Gov. Susana Martinez declared a state of disaster.
Meanwhile, the National Weather Service in Boulder has warned of more rains and thunderstorms on Saturday and Sunday with the possibility of more flash flooding.
"A slow-moving area of low pressure over the Rockies combined with a moist, southerly flow at all levels of the atmosphere will keep the threat of locally heavy rain and flooding in place into the weekend," weather.com meteorologist Chris Dolce said.