HYGIENE, Colo. (AP) — Weary Colorado evacuees have begun returning home after days of rain and flooding, but Monday's clearing skies and receding waters revealed only more heartbreak: toppled houses, upended vehicles and a stinking layer of muck covering everything.
Rescuers who were grounded by weekend rains took advantage of the break in the weather to resume searching for people still stranded, with 21 helicopters fanning out over the mountainsides and plains to drop supplies and airlift those who need help.
State emergency officials reported the death toll at eight Monday, but local officials were still investigating the circumstances of two of the fatalities.
In a Colorado Springs creek Monday, authorities recovered the body of a man but couldn't yet say whether his death was related to recent flooding. In Idaho Springs, an 83-year-old man died Monday when the ground he was standing on gave way and he was swept away by Clear Creek, the Denver Post reported.
Two of the eight fatalities were missing women who were presumed dead.
The number of missing people was difficult to pinpoint, but it has been decreasing. The state's count fell Monday from just over 1,200 to about half that.
State officials hoped the overall number would continue to drop as rescuers reached more people and phone service was restored.
“You've got to remember, a lot of these folks lost cellphones, landlines, the Internet four to five days ago,” Gov. John Hickenlooper said on NBC's “Today” show. “I am very hopeful that the vast majority of these people are safe and sound.”
Residents of Hygiene returned to their small community east of the foothills to find mud blanketing roads, garages and even the tops of fence posts. The raging St. Vrain River left trucks in ditches and carried items as far as 2 miles downstream.
“My own slice of heaven, and it's gone,” Bill Marquedt said after finding his home destroyed.
Residents immediately set to sweeping, shoveling and rinsing, but the task of rebuilding seemed overwhelming to some.
“What now? We don't even know where to start,” said Genevieve Marquez. “It's not even like a day by day or a month thing.
“I want to think that far ahead, but it's a minute by minute thing at this point. And I guess now it's just help everyone out and try to get our lives back.”
Helicopters had evacuated more than 100 stranded residents in Larimer County by midafternoon Monday, said Chuck Russell, a spokesman for the federal incident command helping with the response.
Russell expected helicopter crews to evacuate as many as 400 by the end of the day and perhaps twice that number today.
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