By Dan Elliott Associated Press
DENVER — The final six people who were unaccounted for after massive flooding in Colorado have been found safe and well, authorities said Tuesday, but new spills were reported in water-damaged oilfields.
Only one person remained missing and presumed dead. Eight deaths have been confirmed.
It was a remarkable outcome after a disaster that damaged or destroyed nearly 2,000 homes, washed out hundreds of miles of roads and left many small mountain towns completely cut off.
In the early days of the flooding, more than 1,200 people were listed as unaccounted for, but the list shrank quickly as people checked in after they were evacuated.
Meanwhile, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission said three new spills totaling at least 7,600 gallons had been discovered as flood waters recede. Regulators are now tracking 11 notable leaks totaling at least 34,500 barrels, mostly from storage tanks that toppled or otherwise failed.
Flooding has hampered attempts to inspect storm damage. Where crews can get to the sites, they are using containment booms and vacuum trucks to capture and remove oil-contaminated water, said Todd Hartman, a spokesman for the commission.
Air National Guard helicopters have airlifted more than 3,000 people and nearly 900 pets to safety.
“We are really happy that we were able to clear all the missing folks,” Larimer County sheriff’s spokesman John Schulz said, adding that deputies were saddened by the deaths.
The woman who is missing and presumed dead is 60 and lived in hard-hit Big Thompson Canyon. Schulz said eyewitnesses saw the woman in the water, and searchers have found no trace of her. Her name hasn’t been released.
The death toll was dramatically lower than the 144 people killed in 1976 when a flash flood thundered down Big Thompson Canyon. About a foot of rain fell at the head of the canyon in just four hours, triggering the deadliest flash flood in state history.
The difference was that this month’s floods, which started in earnest Sept. 12, arose over a period of days, giving most people time to get to safety, Schulz said.
The National Weather Service said between 7 and 18 inches of rain fell over an eight-day span, primarily in Larimer and Boulder counties.
Five of the final six people who were unaccounted for contacted authorities after their names were made public, Schulz said. Investigators found the sixth person after realizing they had been working from an incorrect spelling of his last name.
No official estimate has been released on the cost of the floods, which wiped out 200 miles of state roads and 50 state bridges.
State transportation officials say the road damage will top $100 million. U.S. Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet of Colorado introduced legislation Tuesday to remove a $100 million cap on disaster-related federal assistance for road repairs.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency said it had approved $22.1 million in individual assistance, most of it to help people to repair homes or find temporarily rentals. More than 15,600 people have applied for FEMA relief.
Vice President Joe Biden flew over some of the damage Monday and promised that federal aid won’t stop even if a possible shutdown of the federal government occurs.
Follow Dan Elliott at http://twitter.com/DanElliott/AP . Associated Press Matt Brown in Billings, Mont., contributed to this report.