DENVER (Reuters) - The list of people still missing in the devastating Colorado floods dwindled to one person on Tuesday, a woman who is presumed dead, after six others once among the hundreds unaccounted for notified authorities that they were alive and well.
The surprise emergence of the six additional survivors comes after a 46-year-old man, who was earlier thought to have been killed, turned up safe on Monday, telling authorities he had managed to climb out the window of his cabin just before it was swept away by flood waters.
The confirmed death toll stood at eight after officials on Monday reported finding the body of 79-year-old Evelyn Starner, who had been listed as missing and presumed dead after her home in the community of Cedar Grove on the Big Thompson River was washed away.
With just one person remaining on that list - a 60-year-old woman last seen in her house before it was swept away along with Starner’s - the casualty count seemed unlikely to go much higher.
In 1976, a deadly flash flood on the Big Thompson River claimed more than 140 lives.
The flurry of human lost-and-found reports in recent days all emanated from Larimer County, which bore much of the brunt of flood waters spawned by torrential downpours that drenched the eastern slopes of the Rockies almost nonstop for a week, starting on September 9.
The deluge, ranked as the heaviest to hit Colorado’s so-called Front Range in about four decades, sent torrents of water cascading down rain-saturated mountainsides through canyons that funneled the runoff into communities below.
The flooding progressed downstream along several rivers and out onto the prairie farmlands east of the Rockies, ultimately causing property losses estimated at $2 billion across 17 counties, including the destruction of at least 1,800 homes.
President Barack Obama has declared a major disaster in nine of the hardest-hit counties, making special federal emergency assistance available to homeowners, farmers and small-business owners whose loses were uninsured.
After evacuating thousands of survivors left stranded in washed-out areas of Larimer and Boulder counties northwest of Denver, emergency management officials have shifted their focus to recovery efforts and damage assessments.
An estimated 1,200 people statewide were unaccounted for in the immediate aftermath of the disaster, and search teams steadily winnowed the roster of missing as families were reunited, evacuees registered at shelters and survivors turned up in areas initially cut off by the floods.
The latest survivors to come forward did so after seeing their names publicly posted late on Monday on a list of the last six individuals still unaccounted for in the disaster, Larimer County sheriff’s spokesman John Schulz said.
Reporting by Keith Coffman; Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Gunna Dickson