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Colo. begins task of evaluating losses

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By The Associated Press
Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013, 9:24 p.m.

LYONS, Colo. — The emergency airlifts of flood victims waned on Tuesday, leaving rescue crews to systematically search the nooks and crannies of the northern Colorado foothills and transportation officials to gauge what it will take to rebuild the wasted landscape.

More than 3,000 people have been evacuated by air and ground since last week's devastating floods, but calls for those emergency rescues are dwindling, federal and state emergency officials said.

Military rescue crews have met to identify new areas to check and places to cover again with hundreds of people still considered missing.

“They've kind of transitioned from that initial response to going into more of a grid search,” Colorado National Guard Lt. Skye Robinson said.

In one of those searches, Sgt. 1st-Class Keith Bart and Staff Sgt. Jose Pantoja leaned out the window of a Blackhawk, giving the thumbs-up sign to people they spotted on the ground while flying outside of hard-hit Jamestown.

Most waved back and continued shoveling debris. But then Bart spotted two women waving red scarves, and the helicopter descended.

Pantoja clipped his harness to the helicopter's wench and was lowered to the ground. He clipped the women in, who laughed as they were hoisted into the Blackhawk.

After dropping the women off at the Boulder airport, the Blackhawk was back in the air less than a minute later to resume the search.

The state's latest count has dropped to about 580 people missing, and the number continues to decrease as the stranded get in touch with families.

One of the missing is Gerald Boland, a retired math teacher and basketball coach who lives in the damaged town of Lyons. Boland's neighbors, all of whom defied a mandatory evacuation order to stay behind, said Boland took his wife to safety on Thursday then tried to return home.

Two search teams went looking for him on Monday.

“He was very sensible. I find it amazing that he would do something that would put himself in harm's way,” said neighbor Mike Lennard. “But you just never know under these circumstances.”

State officials reported eight flood-related deaths — including two women missing and presumed dead — and the number was expected to increase. It could take weeks or even months to search through flooded areas looking for people who died.

With the airlifts tapering, state and local transportation officials are tallying the washed-out roads, collapsed bridges and twisted railroad lines. The rebuilding effort will cost hundreds of millions of dollars and take months, if not years.

Initial assessments have begun trickling in, but many areas remain inaccessible and the continuing emergency prevents a thorough understanding of the devastation's scope.

“The numbers are going to change tomorrow as we get into more places, and the numbers are going to change the day after that,” Federal Emergency Management Agency spokesman Ricardo Zuniga said.

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