Food and water are running low in some of the Colorado communities cut off by epic flooding, but well-organized residents are holding their own while awaiting rescue, officials said Monday.
"Within the communities, all of these people are helping one another out," deputy incident commander Chuck Russell told reporters in Larimer County. "They're being very resourceful."
Helicopters from the U.S. Army and Colorado and Wyoming National Guards took to the air Monday morning, fanning out across the region to rescue people stranded across hundreds of square miles of Colorado flooded when intense rainfall last week pushed streams out of their banks and sent walls of water crashing down mountain canyons.
"Our birds are up and flying," the Wyoming National Guard tweeted. "If (you're) in trouble, we will find you! We will get you to safety!"
Among those cut off were 15 Colorado National Guard members and other emergency workers stranded Sunday when rising floodwater forced them to abandon efforts to evacuate residents from flooded areas near Lyons, a National Guard spokeswoman said.
U.S. Army helicopters rescued the civilian evacuees and some of the National Guard troops and emergency workers, Colorado Air National Guard Master Sgt. Cheresa Theiral said.
A local family offered shelter to the stranded Guard members Sunday night, and on Monday the Guard rescuers went back to work with a door-to-door evacuation of some 18 houses in the area, according to Guard Lt. James Goff.
Goff added that on Sunday, more than 90 residents in Boulder County were rescued by Guard members.
While rescue flights resumed Monday, hundreds of civilians stranded by the flooding face a similar plight -- and a potentially long wait with so many needing to be rescued.
More than 1,000 people in Larimer County alone were cut off and in need of rescue, officials said Monday. If they remain cut off by ground and military crews can't find a way to land helicopters for rescues, authorities will drop food and water to keep people going until rescues are possible, Russell said.
More than 600 people remained unaccounted for in Boulder and Larimer counties alone, officials said Monday. More than 1,200 had been reported unaccounted statewide as of Sunday night.
But while authorities said the presumed death toll of six could rise, most of the people on the unaccounted list are likely alive and well but have failed to check in with authorities to let them know, officials said Monday.
Huge rescue effort
Despite bad weather that kept helicopters grounded much of the weekend, crews from the Colorado and Wyoming National Guards and U.S. Army had used helicopters to rescue more than 700 people as of Saturday night, a National Guard official said.
More than 2,100 people and more than 500 pets had been rescued by air and ground as of late Sunday, according to the National Guard.
Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate said Monday that FEMA teams were on the ground in Colorado to provide emergency assistance.
"We've already had 3,000 families register" since Sunday for FEMA aid, Fugate said, emphasizing that federal assistance will be granted based on need.
The air efforts may be the largest such evacuation in the country since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, National Guard Lt. Col. Mitch Utterback said Saturday.
In some cases, pilots had been flying night missions using night-vision goggles to rescue people, he said.
Among the rescues: Saturday's recovery of 78 children who got stranded while on a field trip.
"The helicopters -- those were the best," said 10-year-old Luca Voeller, one of the students on a field trip to a high-elevation camp when the flooding began.
Death and destruction
Eight people across the state have died, according to the Colorado Office of Emergency Management.
Four of those deaths include a man and a woman, both 19, who were swept away after leaving their car Thursday in Boulder County. Authorities said the woman left the car first, and the man jumped out to try to save her.
Another body was found in a collapsed home in Jamestown in the same county. Rescuers recovered a fourth body on a roadway in Colorado Springs in El Paso County. Details were not given on all the deaths.