Returning Coloradans find sickening flood damage

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A woman looks for reclaimable wood from a heap of household flooring, furniture and other items destroyed by flooding the previous week, in Boulder, Colo., Friday Sept. 20, 2013. The flood recovery process is underway along the front range of Colorado as people clean out flooded homes and businesses. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

LYONS, Colo. (AP) — Coloradans who ventured back into the flood-ravaged town of Lyons found scenes of stomach-churning 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 nowhere to be found.

The number of dead rose to seven, with three others missing and presumed dead. But the number of unaccounted-for people dropped to about 80, thanks to rescues, restored communications and door-to-door searches.

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.

With dustings of snow already on the highest mountains, 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.

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.

E. coli has been found in the town's drinking water and it could be two to six months before the town is livable for most, the Longmont Times-Call reported ( However, residents willing to rough it will be allowed to stay.

Millions of gallons of sewage have been released around the state because of septic systems and sewer lines torn out by flood waters and flooded waste treatment plants, said Steve Gunderson, director of the state's water quality control division. People in some communities have had to boil their water. So far, there have been no reports of illness from the dirty water but Gunderson acknowledged that people might not trace their illness back to the water.

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 on Monday.