DENVER (Reuters) - The likely death toll from massive Colorado flooding rose to nine on Thursday after a 46-year-old man whose home was washed away was listed as missing and presumed dead, and 143 other people remained unaccounted for, authorities said.
The man’s house was in Drake, a small unincorporated community along the Big Thompson River southwest of Fort Collins, the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement. No further details were available.
Massive floods caused by torrential rains that began on September 9 in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains have destroyed at least 1,700 homes in the two hardest-hit Colorado counties of Larimer and Boulder, and caused property losses estimated at nearly $2 billion statewide.
The rains drenched a 130-mile stretch of the eastern slopes of the Colorado Rockies for a week. Days into the downpour, torrents of runoff were gushing down rain-saturated mountainsides through canyons that funneled the floodwaters straight into populated areas below.
Foothill towns clustered at the base of Colorado’s Front Range in Larimer and Boulder counties northwest of Denver bore the immediate brunt of the deluge.
The flooding spread into the plains and inundated farmland, especially along the South Platte River.
Six people are confirmed dead in Colorado, the state Office of Emergency Management said. But another three people in Larimer County, north of Denver, are listed as missing and presumed dead, according to the county sheriff’s office.
A total of 143 people in the state remain unaccounted for, according to figures from the website of the state Office of Emergency Management. Authorities said it was unclear if there might be more fatalities from among the missing.
The number of missing people is down from a high of about 1,200 several days ago, a decrease that occurred as families reunited, evacuees registered at shelters and rescuers reached more remote locales.
“Local agencies made it their No. 1 priority to connect those reported unaccounted for with their families,” said Micki Trost, spokeswoman for the state Office of Emergency Management.
Boulder County has cut to four its tally of people unaccounted for, after assigning detectives to track down hundreds of residents with whom contact was lost, county Office of Emergency Management spokeswoman Carrie Haverfield said.
Many of those unaccounted for in the flooding were in mountain communities and towns in the foothills, such as Jamestown and Lyons, where cell phone and landline service was cut off by the devastation, Haverfield said.
In hard-hit Larimer County, where 139 people remained unaccounted for, most of those were believed to be in isolated locations with no phone service, said Jennifer Hillmann, spokeswoman for the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office.
Heavy rains subsided after Sunday in Colorado, and on Thursday only light showers were falling in the northeast portion of the state, and were not likely to cause flooding, said meteorologist Kari Bowen of the National Weather Service office for Denver and Boulder.
Reporting by Keith Coffman, Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Cynthia Osterman and Richard Chang