|Only six still unaccounted for in Colorado floods|
|Written by DAN ELLIOTT, Associated Press|
|Monday, 23 September 2013 13:13|
LONGMONT, Colo. (AP) — The number of people unaccounted for in the Colorado floods dwindled to six Monday as emergency repair projects picked up speed and Vice President Joe Biden prepared to survey some of the damage and recovery efforts.
The Larimer County Sheriff's Department said rescuers had spoken in person or on the phone over the weekend with 54 people who previously had not been heard from.
Sheriff's spokesman John Schulz said efforts are underway to locate the six unaccounted-for people, whose names have not been released. There was no evidence anything happened to them; authorities just didn't know where they were.
"Our search teams did a great job over the weekend," Schulz said. "I would anticipate several more people will be coming off the list of the missing soon."
The death toll remained at seven, with three other people missing and presumed dead. It wasn't immediately clear if the three who are presumed dead were included among the six people who are unaccounted for.
In the first days of the flooding, more than 1,200 people were listed as unaccounted for, but that number has dropped as communications and highway access have been restored.
The floods caused damage across 17 counties and nearly 2,000 square miles.
Biden was scheduled to take a helicopter tour of some of the flooded areas and meet with officials of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Biden and FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate planned to deliver remarks later.
Also Monday, state officials planned to award several contracts for emergency highway and bridge repairs.
The federal government will reimburse the state up to $100 million for road repairs, Colorado Department of Transportation spokeswoman Amy Ford said. But Colorado officials are pushing to raise that to $500 million, which Ford said was the cap for mid-Atlantic states rebuilding after Superstorm Sandy in 2012.
Colorado officials hope to complete temporary fixes to at least some of the heavily damaged roads by Dec. 1.
Quick repairs are critical because winter weather will make highway work more difficult and force the winter-long closure of the high-elevation Trail Ridge Road through Rocky Mountain National Park, one of only two routes still open into Estes Park, a small town at the park's east entrance.
Also looming are the harvests from Colorado's $8.5 billion-a-year agriculture industry, which relies on trucks to get cattle and crops to markets.
Officials said it's too early to know how much time and money it will take to make permanent repairs, but they say it will cost more than $100 million.
Some 200 miles of state highways and 50 bridges were destroyed.
State Transportation Department Executive Director Don Hunt said the biggest difficulties will be getting construction materials into damaged areas and protecting workers and travelers from falling rocks loosened by heavy rains.
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