BOULDER, Colo. – As rescuers broke through to flood-ravaged Colorado towns, they issued a stern warning Saturday to anyone thinking of staying behind: Leave now or be prepared to endure weeks without electricity, running water and basic supplies.
National Guard helicopters and truck convoys carried the admonition into paralyzed canyon communities where thousands of stranded residents were eager to escape the Rocky Mountain foothills. But not everybody was willing to go. Dozens of people in the isolated community of Jamestown wanted to stay to watch over their homes.
Authorities made clear that residents who chose not to leave might not get another chance for a while.
“We’re not trying to force anyone from their home. We’re not trying to be forceful, but we’re trying to be very factual and definitive about the consequences of their decision, and we hope that they will come down,” Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said.
Special-education teacher Brian Shultz, 38, was torn about leaving his Jamestown home.
“I was thinking about staying. I could have lasted at least a year. I have a lot of training in wilderness survival,” he said, adding that he probably had enough beer to last the whole time.
Across the foothills, rescuers made progress against the floodwaters. But they were still unable to go up many narrow canyon roads that were either underwater or washed out.
On Saturday, the surge of water reached the plains east of the mountains, cutting off more communities and diverting some rescue operations.
Four people have been confirmed dead since the harrowing floods began Wednesday. And hundreds of others have not been heard from in the flood zone, which has grown to cover portions of an area nearly the size of Connecticut.
Some of those who are unaccounted for may be stranded or injured. Others might have gotten out but not yet contacted friends and relatives, officials said.
Police expected to find more bodies as the full scope of damage emerges.
A woman was missing and presumed dead after witnesses saw floodwaters from the Big Thompson River destroy her home in the Cedar Cove area, Larimer County sheriff’s spokesman John Schulz said.
“I expect that we’re going to continue to receive reports of confirmed missing and confirmed fatalities throughout the next several days,” he said.
The military put more troops on the ground and helicopters in the air to aid in the search-and-rescue effort. More rain was in the forecast.
By Saturday evening, more than 1,200 people had been evacuated over two days, National Guard Lt. Col. Mitch Utterback said.
A helicopter taking Gov. John Hickenlooper on a tour of the flooded areas stopped to pick up four stranded people and their two pets. The governor tweeted about the impromptu rescue, and spokesman Eric Brown confirmed it but did not have any details.
Terry Kishiyama’s son flagged down a helicopter with his shirt after a three-day wait for rescue from a neighbor’s house on higher ground.
“You could hear the choppers for miles and miles, but I didn’t know if they were evacuating people. You see a chopper going down behind a ridge, and you have no clue,” Kishiyama said.
For those awaiting an airlift, Guardsmen dropped food, water and other essentials into the winding, narrow canyons.