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Fears Of Massive Death Toll Abate In Colorado

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Boulder County flood damage (credit: CBS)

Boulder County flood damage (credit: CBS)

At its height, the number of people unaccounted for in Colorado flooding topped 1,200 and fears grew that there could be a massive death toll.

Those concerns have largely eased, with hundreds of people finally making contact with loved ones or telling rescuers they are fine and just want to be left alone.

The official death toll stood at seven on Friday, with three people missing and presumed dead, and 82 others remained unaccounted for in one remaining county. As the water receded, many people were asking how the estimates had gotten so high in the first place.

Late last week, authorities were fielding waves of phone calls from anxious relatives, friends and evacuees reporting they had not heard from their daughter, buddy or neighbor in the flood zone.

Counties began compiling lists, saying those who were “unaccounted for” were not necessarily missing but had just not been heard from.

At first, there was confusion. The state and counties sometimes reported conflicting numbers. Some names on the lists were duplicates. Many reports involved residents of Rocky Mountain foothills communities in Larimer, Boulder and Weld counties, and families sometimes called the wrong county to file a report.

In Boulder County, five teams of two detectives were given the task of consolidating lists, crossing off duplicates, cross-checking arriving evacuees, and taking reports from searchers who had reached cut-off communities, said spokeswoman Jennifer Bray.

Then they went door to door to find the people still unaccounted for, she said.

That number had been whittled down to zero by Friday in Boulder County, where four of the seven deaths occurred. The 82 people still unaccounted for were all in Larimer County.

Boulder County sheriff’s spokesman Rick Brough said searchers were still scouring the isolated reaches for people who may not have been on any of the missing lists.

“I think what we’re looking at is those people who maybe were reclusive or lived in the mountains by themselves,” Brough said. “They might be the ones we still need to check on, but I don’t expect the numbers to be large at all.”

Over the past few days, searchers have generally categorized the people they found:

- Those who were safe but unable to get word out because they were cut off by flooding and were without phone service.

- Those who left on their own but were not immediately able to contact their families.

- Those who weren’t at home at the time or have seasonal homes or cabins in the flood-damaged Rocky Mountain foothills.

- Those who didn’t know they were on the list.

- Those who refused to leave and had not been counted.

Many people in the mountain communities defied mandatory evacuation orders to stay in their homes, despite rescue crews showing them photographs of the devastation and Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith traveling in to appeal to them.

“It’s been mixed success, I’d say,” sheriff’s spokesman John Schulz said of the efforts. “Most of them are the die-hards and they have made up their mind.”

Those who still remain on the list of the missing and unaccounted for are from Larimer County. With phone service restored to most areas and more isolated communities and neighborhoods surveyed, searchers are starting to get to the “nitty-gritty” of door-to-door house checks and searches of vehicles and debris piles, Schulz said.

Those on the list now are more likely to include those actually missing, injured or perhaps dead, he said.

“I would say that after the next day or so we will actually be down to the hard core where they truly are missing,” Schulz said. “But until we get everybody out that we’re aware of, and all the lists are cross-checked, we’re not ready to focus on that yet.”

Colorado Floods: How To Help

The recent floods are impacting families and communities throughout Colorado, so CBS4 has compiled a list of ways you can support the local communities impacted by the floods.

- By MATT VOLZ, Associated Press

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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