Colorado residents begin to return home as rainfall ends

Rescue crews intensify search efforts after a week of torrential downpours that killed at least eight people

Heavy rains finally stopped in Colorado Monday night, allowing some flood evacuees to return home to assess damage and rescue crews to intensify their search efforts after a week of torrential downpours wreaked havoc and claimed eight lives so far.

Twenty-one helicopters fanned out over the mountainsides to drop supplies to stranded residents and airlift to safety those who needed help. Search crews, meanwhile, rescued more than 100 people isolated by floodwaters.

"We were really hampered Sunday due to weather. It appears to be lifting, so we are hoping to get a lot of boots on the ground and people in the air," Carrie Haverfield, spokeswoman for the Boulder Office of Emergency Management, told The Denver Post earlier Monday.

The death toll rose to eight when an 83-year-old man was killed Monday after the ground crumbled and he was swept away by the rising waters of Clear Creek, near Idaho Springs. That number includes three people in Boulder County, two in El Paso County and an two missing and presumed dead in Larimer County, according to the Colorado Office of Emergency Management.

PHOTOS: Images from Boulder County

About 1,500 homes have been destroyed and another 17,500 damaged from the storm, according to an initial estimate released by the Colorado Office of Emergency Management. In addition, 11,700 people have left their homes.  

Hundreds of people are still missing or unaccounted for, but the total has been decreasing. The state's count of individuals in those categories fell Monday, from 1,253 people to 648. 

President Barack Obama signed a disaster declaration Saturday and ordered federal aid for the state.

'It's gone'

Residents of Hygiene, a small community east of the Rocky Mountain foothills, returned home Monday to find their houses destroyed and mud blanketing roads. 

"My own slice of heaven, and it's gone," Bill Marquedt said of his home.

"What now? We don't even know where to start," said Genevieve Marquez. "It's not even like a day-by-day or a month thing."

Nearly 2,000 people have been rescued from communities and homes swamped by overflowing rivers and streams, including more than 100 people in Larimer County Monday, but numerous pockets remain cut off from help, officials said.

Nina Larson of Longmont was with her son and one of his friends when the water started swirling up fast on her Hayden Court home.

They were trapped for eight hours before rescuers came for them in a boat. In the meantime, her husband Jeff Larson swam across flooded fields, battling heavy currents to get to his family.

"You kind of lose all thought of yourself. You just have to get to your family. That's it," he told Al Jazeera's Rob Reynolds. 

Once the evacuations end, officials said it could take weeks or even months to search through flood-ravaged areas for victims.

In the mountain towns, major roads were washed away or covered by mud and rockslides. Hamlets like Glen Haven in Larimer County were reduced to debris, and key infrastructure like gas lines and sewage systems were destroyed.

Hundreds of homes around Estes Park, next to Rocky Mountain National Park, could be unreachable and uninhabitable for up to a year, town administrator Frank Lancaster said.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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