National Guard evacuates more than 1,750 people from flooded parts of Colorado

Helicopter rescues rival that of Hurricane Katrina

BOULDER, Colo. - The Colorado National Guard has evacuated nearly 1,750 people and hundreds of pets displaced by flooding in Colorado.

An estimated 1,200 people had been evacuated by helicopter as of Saturday evening.

"I think what we have going on here in the last 24 hours is the greatest number of Americans rescued by helicopter since Hurricane Katrina," said Lt. Mitch Utterback with the Colorado National Guard.

Larimer County reported about 300 more people have been evacuated so far Saturday and the National Guard reported they'd retrieved a group of students that were stranded at Balarat Outdoor Educational Center.

The National Guard was activated Thursday when Gov. John Hickenlooper signed an emergency declaration. Since then, more than 450 Colorado National Guardsmen and active-duty Army Soldiers are involved in the rescue effort.

In Boulder County, 12 military aircraft are assisting with search and rescue operations. County Sheriff Joe Pelle reported they've cooperated to rescue hundreds of people from isolated parts of his jurisdiction.

"We rescued a young couple yesterday from Lyons. The young lady was pregnant. Her due date was tomorrow. We got her out of Lyons, we got her to a home in Longmont and her water broke last night," Pelle said Saturday morning.

High-clearance vehicles provided by the National Guard were also used in evacuations in Boulder County. They were used to cross into the Town of Lyons, which was otherwise impossible because of high water and debris.

Lyons became completely isolated Thursday, but only a handful of people were evacuated before Friday. Four sheriff's deputies were trapped there along with the residents.

"The intense operation in the air and on the ground will continue today at a level I've never seen," Pelle said.

In Larimer County, where conditions are similar, National Guard troops were also conducting evacuations. The first described by officials involved a family of three and their dog who were stuck somewhere along County Road 47.

Sheriff Justin Smith said many people were stranded throughout the county after waters rose unexpectedly high between overnight Thursday into Friday, and as of early Saturday evening about 350 people are unaccounted for.

"We do know that there are people stranded throughout Larimer County. Up and down. Whether it’s the rivers, by creeks, whatever, we've got people stranded. We simply can't get in there," Smith said Friday.

Seven helicopters are operating in Larimer County Saturday, including two large Chinooks. The sheriff's office reports half of the approximately 120 people stranded in Big Elk Meadows have been evacuated but the others elected to stay.

About 1,200 from Pinewood Springs will be evacuated over the next five days, said Nick Christensen, executive officer of the Larimer County Sheriff's Office.  Meanwhile, the priority is dropping in food, water and other resources.

Other National Guard assets activated for flood areas include military police, high-water rescue teams and swift water rescue teams.

The Boulder County Office of Emergency Management said civilian aircraft were also ordered to supplement the National Guard's flights. They will focus on damage assessment and reconnaissance.

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