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September 24, 2013

Officials: Flood death toll up to eight

DENVER — A 79-year-old woman whose house was swept away by the Big Thompson River was found dead on the river bank, authorities said Monday, bringing to eight the death toll from the massive flooding in Colorado.

As the number of people unaccounted-for dwindled to six, Vice President Joe Biden viewed the devastation from a helicopter before meeting with disaster workers.

“I promise you, I promise you, there will be help,” Biden said, trying to mute concerns that a possible federal government shutdown could derail relief efforts.

The latest victim was identified as Evelyn M. Starner. Larimer County authorities said she drowned and suffered blunt force trauma. Starner was previously listed as missing and presumed dead. Authorities initially said she was 80.

Starner was found Saturday. One other person was still missing and presumed dead — a 60-year-old woman from Larimer County. A man was taken off the list after walking into the sheriff’s office.

The number of unaccounted for people shrank as improving communications and road access allowed authorities to contact 54 people over the weekend who had not been heard from.

The floods caused damage across 17 counties and nearly 2,000 square miles. Nearly 2,000 homes were damaged or destroyed along with more than 200 miles of state highways and 50 state bridges.

The floods are also blamed for spills of about 27,000 gallons of oil in northern Colorado oilfields, including two mishaps found over the weekend, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission said.

The commission said it’s tracking eight notable leaks, 10 other locations with some evidence of leaks, and 33 places where oilfield equipment appears damaged but no evidence of spills has been spotted. About 1,300 oil and gas wells remain shut down.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency said it had approved $19.6 million in individual assistance, most of it to help people find temporarily rentals or make house repairs. More than 15,600 people have applied for FEMA relief.

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