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Rain Stops In Colorado But Devastation Remains

Air rescues have resumed in Colorado's Boulder and Larimer counties, sending a stream of evacuees to shelters around the region. Also, more federal resources are beginning to become available. Additionally, flooding is beginning to work its way into the plains of eastern Colorado.

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Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The heavy rain has finally stopped in Colorado, but days of flooding have devastated the most populated region of the state, known as the Front Range. As of this morning, we know that eight people have died, though hundreds have not been heard from, some in very remote areas. Officials estimate 1,500 homes have been destroyed, and thousands more damaged. Grace Hood from member station KUNC reports federal aid is making its way into the state, even as crews assess the damage.

GRACE HOOD, BYLINE: After rain pummeled flooded communities over the weekend, long-awaited sunshine poked through the clouds Monday. Towns are just starting to dry out from days of heavy rain and flooding, and the destruction is severe. The rain destroyed countless roads and bridges and damaged thousands of homes. Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Craig Fugate traveled to the state Monday to meet Governor John Hickenlooper and survey the damage.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

CRAIG FUGATE: The president has concurred with the governor and declared the state of Colorado a major disaster, and has turned on a variety of programs to help with the immediate response and removal of debris.

HOOD: That aid includes financial assistance in four counties for people with losses not covered by insurance and extra manpower to help local agencies on search-and rescue efforts.

(SOUNDBITE OF HELICOPTER ENGINE)

HOOD: Helicopter recovery cranked into full gear Monday afternoon. Both Boulder and Larimer Counties, north of Denver, were able to resume rescues of people stranded in their homes because of washed-out roads. Hundreds of residents have been reported missing, in many instances because they have no way of contacting friends and relatives. Downed cell phone towers and phone lines have made communication in some areas difficult. Nick Christensen is with the Larimer County Sheriff's Office.

NICK CHRISTENSEN: We may complete this evacuation component in the next day or two, but there are a lot of areas we'll have to search thoroughly and continue to focus on those that are missing at this point, and make sure that everybody is accounted for. And that may take weeks or even months, I would anticipate.

(SOUNDBITE OF MACHINERY)

HOOD: Those evacuated Monday filtered through this shelter set up in East Fort Collins. It's one 24 the Red Cross set up across the Front Range. As a bus pulled up from a nearby airfield, Kim Tulk anxiously awaited the arrival of her brother-in-law, Tim.

KIM TULK: Did you ride a Chinook?

TIM TULK: Oh, yeah.

TULK: Yeah?

TULK: Yeah.

HOOD: Tim gave Kim a big bear hug as he walked off the bus.

TULK: We got rescued. What do you know?

(LAUGHTER)

HOOD: He was stranded in his home in the Big Thompson Canyon, which was ravaged by floodwater. For the past couple of days, Tim has been communicating with his family through text messages.

TULK: There's nothing normal right there, right now. I mean, there's houses that have been wiped out, and there's just parts of the road and stuff that are just totally missing.

HOOD: Tim says it may be months before he returns home, because roads leading to his property are completely destroyed.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOG BARKING)

HOOD: At a nearby cement wall, dog and cat kennels sit near tables with human and pet food. This is where people come to find their evacuated pets. Tim is anxious to reunite with his black cat, Kooky.

TULK: Hey, sweetie. She's all quiet now.

(LAUGHTER)

HOOD: Kooky and Tim Tulk plan to stay with his sister-in-law Kim for the time being. The Red Cross's Larry Fortmuller says evacuees are divided into two groups: those like Tim, who are staying with friends or families, and those who need to stay on in a shelter.

LARRY FORTMULLER: If they have no place to go, have no plans, then this is a Red Cross shelter. We can check them in, give them a place to sleep, meals, nursing care, emotional support, and we help get them back on their feet.

HOOD: Ultimately, Fortmuller says the goal is for evacuees to find at least temporary housing. As search-and-rescue efforts continue in the coming days, FEMA officials say they'll work to find rental properties for the evacuees. The agency has had a lot of recent practice in this area. Less than one year ago, it embarked on one of its largest housing operations ever with Hurricane Sandy. For NPR News, I'm Grace Hood in Ft. Collins, Colorado. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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