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Returning Coloradans find sickening flood damage

Published: Friday, Sept. 20, 2013 8:04 a.m. CDT

LYONS, Colo. — Coloradans who ventured back into the flood-ravaged town of Lyons found scenes of stomach-turning destruction, with dozens of homes destroyed, family keepsakes missing, food spoiling and mud everywhere.

"It's just sickening," said Gloria Simpson, whose family salvaged some of her grandmother's hand-made quilts Thursday from her 81-year-old father's home. They found some family photos, but others were no where to be found.

Up and down Colorado's Front Range, the number of dead rose to seven, with three others missing and presumed dead. But the number of unaccounted-for people dropped to about 140, thanks to rescues and restored communications.

Rescue operations tapered off and the state began to turn its attention to finding homes for the displaced, restoring basic services and figuring out how to repair hundreds of miles of roads and dozens of bridges.

"Right now we're just moving from the life-saving mode to the life-sustaining mode," said Kevin Kline, director of the Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

Kline said it was too early to estimate the dollar damage but added, "It's going to be big."

The damage spans 17 counties and nearly 2,000 square miles.

Gov. John Hickenlooper said the state's reconstruction effort would be overseen by Jerre Stead, executive chairman of the global information company IHS Inc.

A new group within the state Transportation Department will focus on repairing and reconstructing as much of the state highway system as possible by Dec. 1.

Underlining the urgency, Trail Ridge Road through Rocky Mountain National Park, one of the only routes still open into the flood-damaged town of Estes Park, was temporarily closed because of snow early Thursday. The high-elevation road normally shuts down in October for the winter.

Under tight security, hundreds of Lyons evacuees were given two hours to check on their homes Thursday. On Sept. 12, the St. Vrain River destroyed dozens of homes, a trailer park, two bridges and sections of roads in the picturesque town of 1,600 framed by sandstone cliffs.

Darren Horwitz saw boulders, broken glass and dislodged propane tanks strewn around Lyons. His truck and sailboat that he parked at a friend's mobile home had been swept away.

"When you get there, the shock sets in," he said.

Bob Ruthrauff, 84, found his home intact, but food was rotting in his refrigerator because electricity had been cut off. He spent his two hours getting rid of the spoilage but was grateful. "We're very lucky. We came home to a dry home," Ruthrauff said.

Utility poles were toppled and power lines were in tangles. Work crews cleared debris and tried to restore power, water and sewer service.

Flooding along the South Platte River pushed into western Nebraska but caused little initial damage.

Amtrak said its Chicago-to-San Francisco California Zephyr train will detour through Wyoming until early October because of flood damage to its route in Colorado. Buses will take passengers to some of the train's normal stops in Colorado and Utah until repairs are completed.

The White House said Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, will visit Colorado Monday.

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