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Likely death toll in Colorado floods rises to at least 10

An oil well pad is surrounded by flood waters in Weld County, Colorado September 17, 2013. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
An oil well pad is surrounded by flood waters in Weld County, Colorado September 17, 2013. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) - The likely death toll from massive Colorado flooding rose to 10 on Thursday after the body of a man was discovered near a river drainage area and another person whose home was washed away was listed as presumed dead, with 140 other people still unaccounted for, authorities said.

Massive floods caused by torrential rains that began on September 9 in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains have destroyed at least 1,800 homes in the two hardest-hit Colorado counties of Larimer and Boulder, and caused property losses estimated at nearly $2 billion statewide.

The rains drenched a 130-mile stretch of the eastern slopes of the Colorado Rockies for a week. Days into the downpour, torrents of runoff were gushing down rain-saturated mountainsides through canyons that funneled the floodwaters straight into populated areas below.

Foothill towns clustered at the base of Colorado's Front Range in Larimer and Boulder counties northwest of Denver bore the immediate brunt of the deluge. The flooding spread into the plains and inundated farmland, especially along the South Platte River.

Authorities have recovered the bodies of seven people killed in the flooding in Colorado, said Micki Trost, spokeswoman for the state Office of Emergency Management. Another three people in Larimer County, north of Denver, are listed as missing and presumed dead, according to the county sheriff's office.

The body of Gerald Boland, 80, was discovered on Thursday near a river drainage area in the community of Lyons, where he is believed to have lived, said Gabrielle Boerkircher, spokeswoman for the Boulder County Office of Emergency Management.

"Obviously we're never happy when we find another fatality, but considering everything that's happened it's been a relief that it's not hundreds," Boerkircher said of Boland, the fourth person confirmed dead in Boulder County.

The other person added to the likely death toll on Thursday was an unidentified 46-year-old man whose house in Drake, a small community along the Big Thompson River southwest of Fort Collins, was found to have washed away, the Larimer County Sheriff's Office said. The man had last been seen in the house.

MISSING

A total of 140 people in the state remain unaccounted for, all but one of them in hard-hit Larimer County, officials said. Authorities said it was unclear if there might be more fatalities from among the missing.

The number of missing people is down from a high of about 1,200 several days ago, a decrease that occurred as families reunited, evacuees registered at shelters and rescuers reached more remote locales.

Boulder County has cut to one its tally of people unaccounted for, after assigning detectives to track down hundreds of residents with whom contact was lost, Boerkircher said.

Many of those unaccounted for in the flooding were in mountain communities and towns in the foothills, such as Jamestown and Lyons, where cell phone and landline service was cut off by the devastation.

Heavy rains subsided after Sunday in Colorado, and on Thursday only light showers were falling in the northeast portion of the state, and were not likely to cause flooding, said meteorologist Kari Bowen of the National Weather Service office for Denver and Boulder.

While authorities were wrapping up rescue operations in Boulder County, in neighboring Larimer County 15 helicopters from the National Guard were deployed on Thursday to reach residents still stranded since the beginning of the flooding.

In recent days, many of the helicopters have filled with household pets as evacuees climbed aboard with everything from dogs and cats to a pet pig, said Kathy Messick, spokeswoman for the Larimer County Sheriff's Office.

Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith was due on Thursday to fly into remote Pinewood Springs and speak to over 70 people who have chosen to remain in their homes rather than evacuate.

Smith is concerned they may have underestimated how long they can survive in isolation, since it may be a number of months before repairs are made to a washed out section of the road leading to the community, Messick said.

(Reporting by Keith Coffman, Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Cynthia Osterman and Richard Chang)

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