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List of missing Colorado flood victims down to just one

A rescue helicopter flies over vehicles in Lyons, Colorado which was hard hit by flood waters September 17, 2013. REUTERS/Mark Leffingwell
A rescue helicopter flies over vehicles in Lyons, Colorado which was hard hit by flood waters September 17, 2013. REUTERS/Mark Leffingwell

By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) - The number of people still missing in Colorado's devastating floods dwindled on Tuesday to just one, a woman presumed to be dead, after six others among the hundreds who had been unaccounted for notified authorities they were alive and well.

The surprise emergence of the six survivors leaves the confirmed death toll from the disaster at eight, not counting the 60-year-old woman last seen in her house before it was swept away by the floodwaters along Big Thompson River.

Unlike the confirmed fatalities from across four Colorado counties, her remains have yet to be recovered. With hundreds of people having turned up earlier, the casualty count seemed unlikely to climb much higher.

By comparison, a deadly flash flood on the Big Thompson River in 1976 - a calamity confined to one watershed in a single night - killed more than 140 people.

The latest addition to the death toll came on Monday when authorities said they had found the body of 79-year-old Evelyn Starner. Listed as missing and presumed dead after her home along the Big Thompson was washed away, her remains were recovered on Saturday from a riverbank downstream.

Officials separately reported that a 46-year-old man who was earlier presumed to have been killed turned up safe on Monday, telling authorities he had managed to climb out the window of his cabin just before it was swept off its foundations.

The flurry of human lost-and-found reports in recent days all emanated from Larimer County, which bore much of the brunt of floodwaters spawned by torrential downpours that drenched the eastern slopes of the Rockies almost nonstop for a week, starting on September 9.

WIDESPREAD DEVASTATION

The deluge, ranked as the heaviest to hit Colorado's so-called Front Range in about four decades, sent torrents of water cascading down rain-saturated mountainsides through canyons that funneled the runoff into communities below.

The flooding progressed downstream along several rivers and out onto the prairie farmlands east of the Rockies, ultimately causing property losses estimated at $2 billion across 17 counties, including the destruction of at least 1,800 homes.

President Barack Obama has declared a major disaster in nine of the hardest-hit counties, making special federal emergency assistance available to homeowners, farmers and small-business owners whose loses were uninsured.

After evacuating thousands of survivors left stranded in washed-out areas of Larimer and Boulder counties northwest of Denver, emergency management officials have shifted their focus to recovery efforts and damage assessments.

An estimated 1,200 people statewide were unaccounted for in the immediate aftermath of the disaster. Search teams steadily winnowed the roster of missing, as families were reunited, evacuees registered at shelters, and survivors turned up in areas initially cut off by the floods.

As recently as Friday, Larimer County officials were still trying to track down 82 people whose whereabouts were unknown.

The latest six survivors to come forward did so after seeing their names publicly posted late on Monday on a list of the six individuals who were still unaccounted for, Larimer County sheriff's spokesman John Schulz said.

The last person scratched off the unaccounted-for list was a man who resided outside the flood zone. He had moved away months ago and had had sporadic contact in recent years with relatives who reported him as missing, Schulz said.

"It was somewhat surprising that all of them on the list or their families contacted us," he told Reuters. "I thought we might (find) one or two. It's a relief to get them (all) off the missing list."

(Reporting by Keith Coffman; Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Gunna Dickson)

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