Created on Tuesday, 17 September 2013 Written by JERI CLAUSING, Associated Press P. SOLOMON BANDA, Associated Press
HYGIENE, Colo. (AP) — The rains finally stopped, allowing many Colorado flood evacuees to return home to toppled houses and upended vehicles with the realization that rebuilding their lives will take months. Search crews, meanwhile, rescued hundreds more people stranded by floodwaters.
Local residents, left to right, Levi Wolfe, Miranda Woodard, Tyler Sadar, and Genevieve Marquez help salvage and clean property in an area inundated after days of flooding, in Hygiene, Colo., Monday Sept. 16, 2013. Searches continue for missing people in isolated Colorado mountain towns. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)
As many as eight people were believed to be dead, according to state officials, and hundreds were still missing. But that number has been decreasing. The state's count fell Monday from just more than 1,200 to about half that. Officials hoped the number of missing would continue declining as rescuers continued working and those stranded got in touch with families.
After days of heavy rain, clearing skies and receding waters allowed crews to intensify their search efforts and assess the damage of the historic floods. Twenty-one helicopters fanned out over the mountainsides and the plains to drop supplies and airlift those who needed help.
Residents of Hygiene, a small community east of the Rocky Mountain foothills, returned home Monday to find homes destroyed and mud blanketing roads. The St. Vrain Creek left trucks in ditches and carried items as far as 2 miles downstream.
"My own slice of heaven, and it's gone," Bill Marquedt said of his home.
Residents set to sweeping, shoveling and rinsing, but the rebuilding task was overwhelming.
"What now? We don't even know where to start," said Genevieve Marquez. "It's not even like a day by day or a month thing."
"I want to think that far ahead but it's a minute by minute thing at this point," she added.
State emergency officials offered a first glimpse at the scope of the damage, with counties reporting about 19,000 homes either damaged or destroyed. Those preliminary figures are certain to change as the waters continue to recede and roads are cleared to allow crews to access more areas.
Air crews rescued more than 100 people in Larimer County Monday. Once the evacuations end, officials said it could take weeks or even months to search through flood-ravaged areas looking for people who died.
In the mountain towns, major roads were washed away or covered by mud and rock slides. Hamlets like Glen Haven were reduced to debris and key infrastructure like gas lines and sewers systems were destroyed.
Hundreds of homes around Estes Park, next to Rocky Mountain National Park, could be unreachable and uninhabitable for up to a year, town administrator Frank Lancaster said.
The town of Lyons was almost completely abandoned. Emergency crews gave the few remaining residents, mostly wandering Main Street looking for status updates, a final warning to leave.
Most of Lyons' trailer parks were completely destroyed. One angry man was throwing his possessions one by one into the river rushing along one side of his trailer on Sunday, watching the brown water carry them away while he drank a beer.