Extraordinary rain amounts over the past week have brought extensive flooding across northeastern Colorado from the mountains to the plains. In the waters’ wake, what is being called the largest helicopter evacuation since Hurricane Katrina in 2005 is underway.
Civilian rescue personnel have been joined by units from the U.S. Army and the Colorado and Wyoming National Guard. The monstrous operation has resulted in thousands of rescues of Coloradans forced to flee the rising waters.
Lt. Mitch Utterback with the Colorado National Guard said Saturday, "I think what we have going on here in the last 24 hours is the greatest number of Americans rescued by helicopter since Hurricane Katrina."
The death toll from the disasters stands at six Monday morning but is expected to climb. Officials in Boulder and Larimer counties said there were more than 800 people unaccounted for between the two with over 1,000 missing across the state.
The Colorado National Guard said yesterday that more than 2,100 people and over 500 pets have been rescued by Colorado National Guardsmen and Army units from Fort Carson.
Evacuation areas stretched from the mountains to the state’s northeastern plains with an estimated 11,700 people displaced by the floodwaters.
Ground units from the National Guard and Army filled over 10,000 sandbags in efforts to keep the waters at bay. Driving high-profile Light Medium Tactical Vehicles (LMTV), soldiers drove where other first responders couldn’t go and brought out residents by the dozens.
CH-47 Chinooks and UH-60 Black Hawks provided support from the air conducting daring rescues of residents trapped on roofs and roads. In some cases, entire towns were cut off by the flood waters requiring aerial operations not seen on U.S. soil in nearly a decade.
Low clouds and more rain largely grounded the aircraft on Sunday. The weather forecast for Monday brings hope that aerial operations will be able to resume.
Following a request from Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, President Barack Obama issued a declared a major disaster declaration clearing the way for federal assistance. Fifteen Colorado counties are now encompassed by the declaration and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) now has teams on the ground to assist.
Rain started falling one week ago on Monday, September 9, reaching a crescendo on Thursday when record amounts of rain fell.
Over the past seven days, many locations near Boulder saw rainfall totals more than what the area normally receives in an entire year. Other locations like Longmont, Loveland, Fort Collins and Estes Park saw rainfall totals in excess of half of a yearly normal.
The Denver metropolitan area, while spared the extensive flooding seen to the city’s west and north, has seen localized street flooding caused by rainfall that has pushed September to the second wettest on record.
Damage from the storm has been extensive, the tally of which won’t be able to be finalized for weeks. As of Monday morning emergency officials said over 17,000 homes were damaged and 1,502 were known to be destroyed.