Property losses soar as Colorado assesses flood damage; ninth death reported
FEMA Urban Search and Rescue workers, Doug Westhoff, left, and Randy Sanders, right, walk next to part of a collapsed portion of Namaqua Rd. in Loveland, Colo., on Wednesday.
A ninth person was presumed dead as the number of people unaccounted for from Colorado's devastating flooding continued to fall, authorities said Thursday.
A 46-year-old man in Drake — in Larimer County, one of the hardest-hit regions — was confirmed missing and presumed dead Thursday after his home was washed away Sept. 14, the county sheriff's office said. Statewide, nine people have died or are presumed dead, authorities said.
As electric and phone services have come back online, many people previously presumed missing have made contact with relatives, friends or rescue crews. Only about 200 people remained unaccounted for Thursday — down from a high of about 1,200.
With urgent rescues dwindling, authorities began shifting their efforts toward assessing the damage and the billions of dollars it will take for the state to recover.
In Larimer County, 28 more people were rescued Wednesday, the county sheriff's office said, but 139 were still missing. Others were refusing to leave their homes despite warnings from the U.S. Forest Service and the state Wildlife Division that they could be cut off from essential services for weeks.
"I know the kind of people that live up there," Sheriff Justin Smith told The Denver Post. They are very independent and can take care of themselves, but there are some who aren't as self-sufficient as they might believe they are.
"They can live up there as long as there's power and they can get in and out. They say they appreciate the federal offers to put them up in a hotel, but they say: What would I do in a hotel? This is my life up here. I have to find a way to continue my life up here. I'm not asking for a lot, just the ability to take care of myself.'"
Ten helicopters were still flying rescue missions, down from a high of about two dozen. Some of the helicopters that have been used for emergency airlifts may be returned to Fort Carson, where they will be on standby, Colorado National Guard Lt. Mitch Utterback said.
Experts began totaling the long-term damage. Property losses alone could hit $2 billion, the catastrophe modeling firm Eqecat said Wednesday in its first comprehensive estimate.
Projected losses for residential property alone are about $900 million. Most of the overall losses are uninsured, the firm said.
And state officials were wrestling with a new threat: oil spills.
Six teams from the state Oil and Gas Commission were Five teams of inspectors and environmental protection specialists were canvassing flood-hit areas tracking at least 10 oil spills that have released almost 14,000 gallons of petroleum products.
The biggest — 13,550 gallons — was at an Anadarko Petroleum Co. storage tank north of Firestone on the St. Vrain River, the commission said.
Meanwhile, volunteers filled sandbags and built a dike overnight in the northeastern town of Ovid, preventing serious flooding when the South Platte River crested Wednesday morning, Sedgwick County emergency management Director Mark Turner said.
The river rose to a record 10 feet near the Colorado-Nebraska border, and some flooding was reported near the Nebraska town of Big Springs.
The plains areas of eastern Colorado and western Nebraska is largely rural farmland, which far limited the damage compared to the devastation in the mountain communities to the west.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.