Thousands flee torrential rains
Rescuers broke through to flood-ravaged Colorado towns, issuing a stern warning to anyone thinking of staying behind: Leave now or be prepared to endure weeks without electricity, running water and basic supplies.
National Guard helicopters and truck convoys carried the message into paralysed canyon communities where thousands of stranded residents were eager to escape the Rocky Mountain foothills. But not everybody was willing to go.
Dozens of people in the isolated community of Jamestown wanted to stay to watch over their homes. Authorities made clear that residents who chose not to leave might not get another chance for a while.
Rescuers won't go back for people who insist on staying, Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said. "We're not trying to force anyone from their home. We're not trying to be forceful, but we're trying to be very factual and definitive about the consequences of their decision, and we hope that they will come down," he said.
Special education teacher Brian Shultz, 38, was torn about leaving his Jamestown home. "I was thinking about staying. I could have lasted at least a year. I have a lot of training in wilderness survival,’" he said, adding that he probably had enough beer to last the whole time.
Across the foothills, rescuers made progress against the floodwaters. But they were still unable to go up many narrow canyon roads that were either underwater or washed out.
On Saturday, the surge of water reached the plains east of the mountains, cutting off more communities and diverting some rescue operations.
Four people were confirmed dead since the harrowing floods began Wednesday.
Hundreds of others have not been heard from in the flood zone, which has grown to cover portions of an area nearly the size of Connecticut.
Some of those who were unaccounted for may be stranded or injured.
Others might have gotten out but not yet contacted friends and relatives, officials said.
Police expected to find more bodies as the full scope of damage emerges.
A woman was missing and presumed dead after witnesses saw floodwaters from the Big Thompson River destroy her home in the Cedar Cove area, Larimer County sheriff’s spokesman John Schulz said.
Two fatalities were identified by the Boulder County coroner Saturday as Wesley Quinlan and Wiyanna Nelson, both 19.
Authorities believe the couple died when they were swept away after driving into floodwaters and then leaving their vehicle. Their cause of death is under investigation.
The military put more troops on the ground and helicopters in the air to aid in the search-and-rescue effort.
By Saturday night, 1,750 people and 300 pets had been evacuated from Boulder and Larimer County, National Guard Lt. James Goff said.
The airlifts were to continue Sunday with helicopter crews expanding their searches east to include Longmont, Fort Collins and Weld County. It was not clear how many people were still stranded.
A helicopter taking Gov. John Hickenlooper on a tour of the flooded areas even got in the act, stopping twice to pick up six stranded people and their two pets.
More than 85 fifth-graders from Louisville were greeted by their parents and friends Saturday after they were rescued from an outdoor education center near Jamestown.
Above Larimer County, rescue crews airlifted 475 people to safety and planned to resume helicopter searches on Sunday, weather permitting. Rain was expected to start up again in the mountains and foothills, with up to 2 inches (51 millimeters) forecast to fall overnight, according to the National Weather Service.
Crews also used inflatable boats to pick up families and pets from farmhouses on Saturday. Some evacuees on horseback had to be escorted to safe ground.