Stranded residents plucked from Colorado floodwaters

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LYONS, Colo. -- By truck and helicopter, thousands of people stranded by floodwaters came down from the Colorado Rockies on Friday, two days after seemingly endless rain turned normally scenic rivers and creeks into coffee-colored rapids that wrecked scores of roads and wiped out neighborhoods.

Authorities aimed to evacuate 2,500 people from the isolated mountain community of Lyons by the end of the day, either by National Guard convoys or airlifts.

One of them, Mary Hemme, recalled hearing sirens going off in the middle of the night and her husband saying they needed to leave. They stepped outside their trailer and into rushing water that nearly reached their knees.

She got in her car and tried to drive away.

"But I only got so far, because the river was rushing at me, so I threw it in reverse as fast as I could," Ms. Hemme said. "I was so afraid that I was going to die, that water came so fast."

Others were less fortunate. The body of a woman who had been swept away was found Friday near Boulder, raising the death toll to four.

The relentless rush of water from higher ground turned towns into muddy swamps, and the rain returned Friday afternoon after brief lull. In at least one community, pressure from the descending water caused sewer grates to erupt into huge black geysers.

Damage assessments were on hold with many roads impassable and the rain expected to continue.

"This one's going to bring us to our knees," said Tom Simmons, president and co-owner of Crating Technologies, a Longmont packing service that had its warehouse inundated. "It's hoping against hope. We're out of business for a long time."

About 90 miles of Interstate 25 were closed Friday from Denver to Cheyenne, Wyo., because of flooding from the St. Vrain, Poudre and Big Thompson rivers, transportation officials said.

Hundreds of people were forced to seek emergency shelter up and down Colorado's heavily populated Front Range, which has received more than 15 inches of rain this week, according to the National Weather Service.

That's about half the amount of precipitation that normally falls in the foothills near Boulder during an entire year.

Boulder County officials said 80 people were unaccounted for Friday. But, they noted, that doesn't necessarily mean they are missing.

"It means we haven't heard back from them," county spokesman James Burrus said.

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