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Number of missing in Colorado floods drops

September 19th, 2013 9:47 am by MATT VOLZ and P. SOLOMON BANDA, Associated Press

Number of missing in Colorado floods drops

Danger is spray-painted on a damaged section of Old Highway 34 in Loveland, Colo., on Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013. As floodwaters recede, cleanup and damage assessment continues after historic flooding. (AP Photo/Chris Schneider)

LONGMONT, Colo. (AP) — The number of people unaccounted for from Colorado's devastating flooding has fallen dramatically as rescuers reach stranded victims, and electricity and phone services are restored to ravaged areas, allowing residents to contact family, friends or authorities.

But some of the stranded are refusing to leave their homes, prompting crews to show them photos of the surrounding destruction amid warnings that they could be cut off from essential services for several weeks.

Some of those who did leave were getting a firsthand understanding of the destruction. Business owners were allowed back into the heavily damaged town of Lyons to assess the damage on Wednesday, and homeowners under mandatory evacuations were expected to follow Thursday.

Also Wednesday, Jamestown residents were allowed home, and three entrances to Rocky Mountain National Park were reopened.

Jennifer Hillmann, a spokeswoman for the Larimer County Sheriff's Office north of Boulder, said Wednesday that widespread airlifts have given way to "pinpoint" rescues and door-to-door searches.

Urban search-and-rescue teams with dogs and medical supplies began picking through homes, vehicles and debris piles for victims.

The number of people reported unaccounted for dwindled from a high of 1,200 to about 200.

"We're having a lot of people who are holed up and they don't want to leave the area," Hillmann said. But she added that "we're getting a lot more people calling in and saying, 'hey, here's where I'm at. I'm safe.'"

Search crews also are documenting the damage they find, Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said.

It is part of responders ending the "high-octane" emergency response to the widespread flooding that began last week "and moving into the long and arduous task ahead," he said.

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.

Many homeowners ignored the evacuation orders to stay with their homes, and they waved off rescue helicopters flying overhead.

Hillmann said search crews were showing some of them photos of how broad the destruction is in hopes they will leave, noting that some mountain communities could start getting snow soon.

"Although it might be OK where you are now, up the canyon and down the canyon are completely washed out," she said.

Meanwhile, the South Platte River crested and surged Wednesday through the towns and farms of the Colorado plains and into Nebraska.

Volunteers in Ovid filled sandbags and built a dike overnight in the northeastern Colorado town of about 300, preventing serious flooding when the river crested there Wednesday morning, Sedgwick County emergency management director Mark Turner said.

The river rose to a record level of more than 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 has so far limited the damage compared to the devastation in the mountain communities to the west.

State officials held the number of flood-related deaths at six, plus two women missing and presumed dead. The number is expected to increase, but it could take weeks or even months to search through all the flooded areas.

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Associated Press writer Thomas Peipert contributed to this report. Volz reported from Denver.

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