Search-and-rescue teams bolstered by National Guard troops fanned out across Colorado’s flood-stricken landscape on Monday, as a week of torrential rains blamed for eight deaths and the destruction of at least 1,600 homes finally gave way to sunny skies.
Much of the evacuation effort was focused on remote foothill and canyon communities in north-central Colorado, where the bulk of nearly 12,000 people evacuated since last week were stranded due to washed-out roads, bridges and communication lines, state emergency officials said.
The overall flood zone has encompassed 17 Colorado counties across a normally semi-arid region nearly the size of Delaware.
Drizzle and morning fog that had hampered airborne emergency operations early on Monday lifted by afternoon, allowing National Guard helicopters to return to the skies to help ground teams find trapped flood victims and carry them to safety.
In Boulder County alone, about 1,500 people had been evacuated to emergency shelters as of Sunday night and another 160 on Monday, most of them by helicopter, county emergency management office spokeswoman Liz Donaghey said.
The rest were ferried out by military vehicles. Many of the air-lifted evacuees had to be hoisted by hovering helicopters one at a time from rooftops and upper-floor balconies, she said.
Asked how many more may still be stranded, she said, “We don’t know what we’ve got until we have them.”
In neighboring Larimer County, officials put the number of evacuees yet to be reached at roughly 1,000.