Operations to rescue people stranded by flooding continued today in Boulder and Larimer Counties. Flood conditions are spread across the Front Range in 17 counties from Larimer in the north down to Pueblo in the south.

The Colorado Office of Emergency Management now says seven people have died. That number could still rise. The number of people unaccounted for is down to about 650 - half of what it was yesterday - as more people are able to let friends and family know they’re safe. About 500 people are the 36 shelters that are open. At this point, officials say about 15-hundred homes are known to have been destroyed and almost 18-thousand damaged.

Skies cleared enough by midday for helicopters to resume airlifts. In Boulder, a ground support aviation brigade out of Fort Carson used Chinnock and Blackhawks to reach people who’ve been stranded since Thursday.

First Lt. Skye Robinson with Colorado National Guard says several training exercises have been held in recent years to prepare for emergencies like this.

"When we show up out here we already know who are counterparts are, and we’ve met before, so that makes it a lot easier to work together," Robinson said. "We know what each other’s strengths and weaknesses are, so we are and we are able to go right into the fight and start helping people as quick as possible."

Robinson says, though, there is a big difference between training and the real thing.

"That you’re actually making a difference," Robinson said. "We try to make the training as realistic as possible but they don’t get up and give you a hug after you take them out with a helicopter. Here, these people when as they’re getting off the helicopter they’re very thankful."

In addition to the airlift, search and rescue teams are going into communities cut off by the flooding. Mike Good is the task force leader force on FEMA team that is operating in Lyons. He says his team used National Guard high clearance personnel carriers to wade through 3-5 foot high water to get into the community. The first priority was getting about eight people with medical conditions to safety on Thursday. But their work continues.

"We’ve expanded our search efforts to go through the neighorhoods," Good said. "If we see a damaged house to basically search that as best we can quickly, what we call a primary search, to make sure nobody is in there and move on."

Those airlifted to Boulder were taken to the YMCA.

They included some people who live in the small community of Pinewood Springs. They say everyone banded together, sharing food and generators, to make it through the ordeal.

Skylar Swinney lives on Nugget Hill in Jamestown - another community cut off by flooding. He and his wife, Ana, were ready to be flown out today because they were  running out of spaghetti.

"I’m glad to be back into civilization and actually see society working again," he said.

Swinney says there were 23 people and 17 dogs on the chinnock that brought him to Boulder from Jamestown. He and his wife brought along their four dogs. And they might now go to California to stay with his dad for awhile.

[CPR Photo: Pat Mack]