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Utah crew poised to search flood-ravaged areas as part of Colorado rescue effort

About 1,200 stranded from flooding rescued by helicopters, troops

Published: Saturday, Sept. 14 2013 8:35 p.m. MDT

Kathy Stanford, Courtney Avery and their two dogs were rescued by crews in a National Guard helicopter from an area cut off because of washed out or destroyed homes, in Boulder, Colo., on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013. "It just makes you realize how fragile life can be. You never know if you're going to be here tomorrow," said Stanford, who described the area where she was rescued from as "awful. It's a rushing river basically on the road."

Pat Reavy, Deseret News

BOULDER, Colo. — The Chinook helicopter landed, the hatch opened and about rescued 20 school children walked out the back.

The children, each about 10 years old, had been plucked from the Cal-Wood Education Center, a camp at 7,800 feet in the Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forest about 15 miles outside of Boulder. They walked with springs in their steps as they got off the large helicopter.

Just minutes earlier, a woman walked out of another helicopter and immediately hugged each of the search and rescue workers who had just delivered her to safety.

All day Saturday, heart-warming scenes of people touching dry, safe ground — some for the first time in two or three days — repeated itself at the Boulder Municipal Airport.

A half-dozen Chinook and Blackhawk helicopters continuously picked up stranded residents Saturday who were trapped in the mountain towns of Lyons, Jamestown, and other nearby communities where ground access was no longer a possibility because of washed out and destroyed roads and bridges.

Colorado officials on Saturday said they believe it is the largest rescue operation of Americans by helicopter since Hurricane Katrina.

But while Saturday's effort was on picking up people off the mountains who were in obvious need of rescuing, the transition into more of a search effort — and possible recovery effort — was expected to start Sunday.

That's where members of Utah Task Force 1 come into play.

The 80-member team set up camp at the Boulder Municipal Airport Friday night, along with fellow urban search and rescue teams from Nebraska and Colorado. When their time comes, their job will include being dropped off by helicopter into the flood-ravaged areas and going to each home to look for people who need assistance, or for possible bodies.

"It's our hope to touch every doorknob," Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said.

The Colorado National Guard and a unit from Fort Carson, an Army base near Colorado Springs, have rescued an estimated 1,200 people since Friday, according to National Guard officials.

About 20 of those rescues were conducted using a hoist from the helicopters. Approximately 500 of those residents were rescued by National Guard troops on the ground. In addition, approximately 200 pets had been rescued in Boulder County since Thursday.

The crew from Fort Carson, who earlier this year assisted with fighting Colorado's wildfires, used night vision technology to continue the rescue operation around the clock. An equal number of helicopters conducted similar rescue operations to the north in Larimer County.

Pelle called the rescue mission Saturday as an "intense operation in the air on a level I've never seen."

Kathryn Stanford and her friend Courtney Avery had been stranded near Nugget Hill in the Jamestown area since Thursday. All the roads were waterfalls and the bridges wiped out.

"It's awful. It's a rushing river basically on the road," Stanford said.

Saturday morning, they were picked up by a Chinook helicopter.

"I just want to see my family, that's all I care about right now," she said before having a tearful reunion with her father. "Our family and friends have been worried sick, so I just want to, like, give them the biggest hugs in the world.

"It just makes you realize how fragile life can be. You never know if you'll be given a tomorrow."

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