LYONS, Colo. (AP) — Coloradans who ventured back into the flood-ravaged town of Lyons found scenes of stomach-turning destruction, with dozens of homes destroyed, family keepsakes missing, food spoiling and mud everywhere.
"It's just sickening," said Gloria Simpson, whose family salvaged some of her grandmother's hand-made quilts Thursday from her 81-year-old father's home. They found some family photos, but others were no where to be found.
Up and down Colorado's Front Range, the number of dead rose to seven, with three others missing and presumed dead. But the number of unaccounted-for people dropped to about 140, thanks to rescues and restored communications.
Rescue operations tapered off and the state began to turn its attention to finding homes for the displaced, restoring basic services and figuring out how to repair hundreds of miles of roads and dozens of bridges.
"Right now we're just moving from the life-saving mode to the life-sustaining mode," said Kevin Kline, director of the Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.
Kline said it was too early to estimate the dollar damage but added, "It's going to be big."
The damage spans 17 counties and nearly 2,000 square miles.
Gov. John Hickenlooper said the state's reconstruction effort would be overseen by Jerre Stead, executive chairman of the global information company IHS Inc.
A new group within the state Transportation Department will focus on repairing and reconstructing as much of the state highway system as possible by Dec. 1.
Underlining the urgency, Trail Ridge Road through Rocky Mountain National Park, one of the only routes still open into the flood-damaged town of Estes Park, was temporarily closed because of snow early Thursday. The high-elevation road normally shuts down in October for the winter.
Under tight security, hundreds of Lyons evacuees were given two hours to check on their homes Thursday. On Sept. 12, the St. Vrain River destroyed dozens of homes, a trailer park, two bridges and sections of roads in the picturesque town of 1,600 framed by sandstone cliffs.