This aerial photo shows a raging waterfall destroying a bridge along Highway 34 toward Estes Park, Colorado as flooding continues to devastate the Front Range and thousands are forced to evacuate with an unconfirmed number of structures destroyed Friday, 13 Septeber 2013. Photo: Dennis Pierce / Colorado Heli-Ops

By BEN NEARY and P. SOLOMON BANDA
13 September 2013

LYONS, Colorado (AP) – By air and by land, the rescue of hundreds of Coloradoans stranded by epic mountain flooding was accelerating as food and water supplies ran low, while thousands more were driven from their homes on the plains as debris-filled rivers became muddy seas inundating towns and farms miles from the Rockies.

For the first time since the harrowing mountain floods began Wednesday, Colorado got its first broad view of the devastation — and the reality of what is becoming a long-term disaster is setting in. The flooding has affected parts of a 4,500-square-mile area, almost the size of Connecticut.

National Guard choppers were evacuating 295 people — plus pets — from the mountain hamlet of Jamestown, which was isolated by flooding that scoured the canyon the town sits in.

Helicopters continued to fly in and out late into the night. National Guard truck convoys to rescue residents of the town of Lyons to the northeast resumed Saturday morning and helicopters were headed back to the mountain communities.

The Guard had evacuated total of 518 people by ground by Saturday morning, and additional helicopters were going to be put in the air to aid with the rescue efforts, Master Sgt. Cheresa Theiral said.

"We're going wherever we're being tasked, whether that's Greeley and Weld County, whether that's Arvada and Jefferson County. We have the ability to go whenever, wherever," Theiral said.

The outlook for anyone who'd rather stay is weeks without power, cellphone service, water or sewer.

"Essentially, what they were threatening us with is, 'If you stay here, you may be here for a month,'" said 79-year-old Dean Hollenbaugh, who was evacuated by Chinook helicopter from Jamestown, northwest of Boulder.

For those awaiting an airlift, Guardsmen dropped food, water and other supplies in Jamestown and other small towns in the winding, narrow canyons that dot the Rocky Mountain foothills.

Thousands of evacuees sought shelter from mountain communities to downriver towns where the rivers were still swelling and spilling over their banks Saturday. […]

The city of Boulder reported late Friday that the rushing waters had caused "a significant breach in its main wastewater pipeline" to the treatment plant, but officials said it would not affect drinking water.

Near Greeley, some 35 miles east of the foothills, broad swaths of farmland had become lakes, and the raging South Platte and Poudre rivers led to rescues of stranded residents late into the night, the Greeley Tribune reported.

Hundreds of roads were closed or damaged by floodwaters, and a 70-mile stretch of Interstate 25 was closed from Denver to the Wyoming line.

Rocky Mountain National Park closed Friday, its visitors forced to leave via the 60-mile Trail Ridge Road to the west side of the Rockies.

It will be weeks, if not months, before a semblance of normalcy returns to Lyons, a gateway community to the park. The town, surrounded by sandstone cliffs whose color was reflected in the raging St. Vrain River, consisted of six islands Friday as residents barbecued their food before it spoiled. […]

Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said recovery would be long and expensive — similar to wildfires the state is more familiar with.

"Please be patient. This is an unprecedented event," Pelle said. [more]

Rescues accelerate as floodwater inundates Colo.

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