As floods recede in Colorado, searching for the hundreds of missing

A home is destroyed in Salina on Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013, in the Fourmile Canyon area of Boulder County Colorado.
Jeremy Papasso,AP Photo/Daily Camera

LYONS, Colo. As water recedes and flows east onto the Colorado plains rescuers are shifting their focus from emergency airlifts to trying to find the hundreds of people still unaccounted for after last week's devastating flooding.

Federal and state emergency officials said more than 3,000 people have been evacuated by air and ground, but calls for those emergency rescues have decreased.

The state's latest count has dropped to about 580 people missing, and the number continues to decrease as the stranded get in touch with families.

State officials reported six flood-related deaths, plus two women missing and presumed dead. The number was expected to increase. It could take weeks or even months to search through flooded areas looking for bodies.

State and local transportation officials are tallying the washed-out roads, collapsed bridges and twisted railroad lines.

In addition to the missing, hundreds of people are still waiting to be rescued from canyons and mountainous terrain in western Larimer County after Colorado's historic flooding, but there are some who say they don't want to leave, reports KCNC-TV in Denver.

More than a dozen National Guard helicopters have been flying air rescues. Troops on Monday dropped off dozens of evacuees and pets and they were taken by buses to shelters. But the help won't be available forever.

"We're not able to continue to do food and water drops to people that refuse to evacuate on an ongoing basis," said Nick Christensen, Larimer County Sheriff's Department spokesman.

Residents who are refusing to leave are perhaps staying on their land to protect the property or protect their animals.

Horse trainer Jeff Burley told KCNC-TV he can sympathize with those who are reluctant to leave livestock.

"It is hard for others to understand what the animals mean to us," Burley said. "They are like children."

Most of the horses Burley works with at T & L Quarter Horses of Greeley escaped the South Platte River flooding there last Friday. Five horses had to be left behind.

"There was no getting to the property at all," Burley said. "I didn't sleep Friday night because we didn't know if he would find our animals dead or alive."

Those horses were later found and are recovering and most of the T & L horses are now being cared for at the ranch events compound in Loveland.

Christensen and other officials warn that stranded stragglers may have to make a choice soon.

"Life safety is paramount. Everything else can be repaired or replaced," he said.