The floods that have repeatedly inundated large parts of central and northeastern Colorado since Wednesday likely killed more than the four people who have been confirmed dead, officials say. The search for victims has taken second priority to rescue and relief operations, as agencies rush to help people who remain at risk. President Obama has declared a major disaster in the area.
A break in the region's heavy rainfall has now largely ended; forecasts call for more rain and thunderstorms Sunday. The National Weather Service has issued flood warnings for areas that include 15 counties. The agency says to expect anywhere from a third of an inch to two inches of rain Sunday.
Hundreds of people remain unaccounted for, particularly in isolated areas in the mountains and foothills, where floodwaters have cut people off from major roads and knocked out electricity and other utilities.
As we reported Saturday, people are listed as "unaccounted for" when they haven't been in touch with family or friends. In Larimer County, the number stood at 482 people Sunday morning, the sheriff's office said. Officials urge survivors to use the Red Cross "Safe and Well" tool to alert others of their status.
From NPR member station KUNC, Luke Runyon reports for our Newscast unit:
"A 60-year-old woman was seen being swept off her feet and into the raging Big Thompson River early Friday morning. Officials say she's missing and presumed dead.
"After seeing the devastation above from a helicopter, Nick Christensen with the Larimer County sheriff's office says except the number of casualties to continue to rise.
" 'We are assuming based on the magnitude of the damage, especially in the Big Thompson corridor, that there are highly likely other fatalities and injuries, certainly.'
"More than 1,000 people are still stranded in small mountain communities. Helicopters are flying in food and water, and evacuating those injured in the floods."
Helicopters are also being used to ferry people — as many as 50 at a time — out of canyon areas that face the risk of new flooding, as The Denver Post reports.
In Boulder County, Sheriff Joe Pelle also says that the number of people found to have been killed by the flooding could rise.
"We have not begun to search collapsed structures, debris piles, and washouts, where we would likely find human remains," he says.
Saturday night, President Obama signed a disaster declaration that orders federal help for those affected by the flooding and mudslides that began on Wednesday, Sept. 11. It immediately applies to Boulder County; other areas may be added as damage surveys continue.
The White House included information about how people can begin the process of seeking federal assistance:
"FEMA said that residents and business owners who sustained losses in the designated counties can begin applying for assistance [Sunday] by registering online at http://www.DisasterAssistance.gov or by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or 1-800-462-7585 (TTY) for the hearing and speech impaired. The toll-free telephone numbers will operate from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. (local time) seven days a week until further notice."
The National Weather Service says the flooding will likely spread to more areas as the heavy rainfall — more than a foot in a matter of days, in some areas — makes its way downstream.