This aerial photo shows flood damage in Greeley, Colo., on Monday. (AP Photo/The Denver Post, Kathryn Scott Osler, Pool)
DENVER — A 79-year-old woman whose house was swept away by the Big Thompson River was found dead on the river bank, authorities said Monday, bringing to eight the death toll from the massive flooding in Colorado.
As the number of people unaccounted-for dwindled to six, Vice President Joe Biden viewed the devastation from a helicopter before meeting with disaster workers.
“I promise you, I promise you, there will be help,” Biden said, trying to mute concerns that a possible federal government shutdown could derail relief efforts.
The latest victim was identified as Evelyn M. Starner. Larimer County authorities said she drowned and suffered blunt force trauma. Starner was previously listed as missing and presumed dead. Authorities initially said she was 80.
Starner was found Saturday. One other person was still missing and presumed dead — a 60-year-old woman from Larimer County. A man was taken off the list after walking into the sheriff’s office.
The number of unaccounted for people shrank as improving communications and road access allowed authorities to contact 54 people over the weekend who had not been heard from.
The floods caused damage across nearly 2,000 square miles. Nearly 2,000 homes were damaged or destroyed along with more than 200 miles of state highways and 50 state bridges.
The floods are also blamed for spills of about 27,000 gallons of oil in northern Colorado oilfields, including two mishaps found over the weekend, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission said.
The commission said it’s tracking eight notable leaks, 10 other locations with some evidence of leaks, and 33 places where oilfield equipment appears damaged but no evidence of spills has been spotted. About 1,300 oil and gas wells remain shut down.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency said it had approved $19.6 million in individual assistance, most of it to help people make house repairs or find temporarily rentals. More than 15,600 people have applied for FEMA relief.
With talk of a government shutdown emanating from Washington, FEMA insisted its aid will continue uninterrupted whether there is a budget impasse or not. The Disaster Relief Fund and FEMA operations on the ground in Colorado won’t be affected, officials said.
“The response in Colorado will not be impacted,” said FEMA spokesman Dan Watson.
The U.S. Department of Transportation has pledged an initial $35 million for roads, and Colorado has allocated $100 million.
Colorado’s congressional delegation is lobbying to raise the Federal Highway Administration’s $100 million funding cap for emergency relief to $500 million — an amount approved after Hurricane Sandy struck Atlantic states last year.
Colorado officials have awarded four contracts for emergency bridge and highway repairs. Officials hope to complete temporary fixes to at least some of the heavily damaged roads by Dec. 1.