Created on Monday, 23 September 2013 Written by IVAN MORENO, Associated Press
DENVER (AP) — The body of a 79-year-old woman was found beside the Big Thompson River, authorities said Monday, bringing to eight the death toll from the massive flooding in Colorado.
Evelyn M. Starner was found Saturday after she drowned and suffered blunt force trauma, Larimer County authorities said.
Starner was previously listed as missing and presumed dead after her house in the Big Thompson Canyon was swept away. Authorities initially said she was 80.
It wasn't clear why the discovery was not announced sooner.
Two other people were still missing and presumed dead — a 60-year-old woman and a 46-year-old man, both from Larimer County.
The number of unaccounted for people dwindled to six 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. Some 200 miles of state highways and 50 bridges were destroyed.
Vice President Joe Biden arrived Monday in Colorado for a helicopter tour to survey the damage and recover efforts. Biden's plane landed at Buckley Air Force Base in suburban Denver, and the vice president boarded an Army Black Hawk helicopter.
He planned to make public comments later in the day with Gov. John Hickenlooper and Craig Fugate, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
State officials awarded four contracts for emergency highway and bridge repairs Monday.
The federal government will reimburse the state up to $100 million for road repairs, Colorado Department of Transportation spokeswoman Amy Ford said. But the state was pushing to raise that amount to $500 million, which Ford said was the cap for mid-Atlantic states rebuilding after Superstorm Sandy in 2012.
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 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.
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.
Associated Press writers Dan Elliott and Steven K. Paulson contributed to this report.