Attention turns to damage tallies as airlifts wane in Colorado flooding

  • Posted: Wednesday, September 18, 2013 12:01 a.m.
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Jose Pantoja, a flight medic with the Colorado Air National Guard, carries an evacuee up a hoist onto a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter Monday during rescue and recovery operations near Boulder.

LYONS, COLO. — The emergency airlifts of flood victims waned Tuesday, leaving rescue crews to systematically search the nooks and crannies of the northern Colorado foothills and transportation officials to gauge what it will take to rebuild the wasted landscape.

More than 3,000 people have been evacuated by air and ground since last week’s devastating floods, but calls for those emergency rescues are now dwindling, federal and state emergency officials said.

Military rescue crews have met to identify new areas to check and places to cover again with hundreds of people still considered missing. “They’ve kind of transitioned from that initial response to going into more of a grid search,” Colorado National Guard Lt. Skye Robinson said.

The state’s latest count has dropped to about 580 people missing, and the number continues to decrease as the stranded get in touch with families.

One of the missing is Gerald Boland, a retired math teacher and basketball coach who lives in the damaged town of Lyons. Boland’s neighbors, all of whom defied a mandatory evacuation order to stay behind, said Boland took his wife to safety Thursday then tried to return home.

Two search teams went looking for him Monday.

“He was very sensible. I find it amazing that he would do something that would put himself in harm’s way,” said neighbor Mike Lennard. “But you just never know under these circumstances.”

State officials reported eight flood-related deaths, and the number was expected to rise. It could take weeks or even months to search flooded areas looking for people who died.

With the airlifts tapering, state and local transportation officials are tallying the washed-out roads, collapsed bridges and twisted railroad lines. The rebuilding effort will cost hundreds of millions of dollars and take months, if not years.

Many areas remain inaccessible and the continuing emergency prevents a thorough understanding of the devastation’s scope.

Northern Colorado’s broad agricultural expanses are especially affected, with more than 400 lane-miles of state highway and more than 30 bridges destroyed or impassable.

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