The residents of the foothill town of Lyons, Colo., hit hard by flooding, have another misery piled on their already destroyed and damaged homes, businesses and roads: the potentially deadly E. coli bacteria has been found in the town’s water system.
"We don’t want you using any of the water," Lyons’ town administrator, Victoria Simonsen, said during a town hall meeting, which was broadcast online because the town is all but evacuated.
There’s no timeline for when the water and sewer systems will be restored, Simonsen said. Many of Lyons’ residents were evacuated by a convoy of National Guard troops last week. If they want to return to a town that also lacks electricity and gas, officials said, they do so at their own risk.
"It is critical we get (the water system) back up, and get it disinfected before we would ... want any of you to be back," Simonsen said.
E. coli is potentially deadly and can cause bloody diarrhea, dehydration and kidney failure.
The finding is among the many problems compounding rescue and recovery efforts in the state, where floods across 11,600 square kilometres wiped out thousands of homes, torn through bridges and damaged oil-storage tanks. Seven people were killed, and three others are presumed dead.
On Saturday, the number of people still unaccounted for stood at 60 — down from 80 on Friday.
Officials hope the number of missing persons will continue to drop as more rescue missions and house checks are performed, phone lines are restored and registrations at evacuation centers and online databases become more up to date. At the peaks of the flooding last week, about 1,200 people were unaccounted for.
"As we get into the middle or latter part of next week, we’ll have a list of people who truly are missing or unaccounted for. And a certain number of them will be dead," said Larimer County sheriff’s office spokesman John Schulz.
Larimer County—a largely mountainous county north of Boulder along the Wyoming border—has become the focus of rescue and recovery efforts.
County investigators are zeroing in on Big Thompson Canyon, where the Big Thompson River meets the plain, forming a natural collection area for the debris of washed-out homes and businesses, Shulz said.
Investigators are conducting a "meticulous" search of the debris, he said.
Elsewhere in Larimer County, rescue crews are checking in on the 327 people who chose to stay home. Some are now deciding to evacuate their homes, Schulz said. Many roads are still impassable, and the sheriff is putting up roadblocks. Officials are investigating whether inaccessible areas can be reached via hiking trails or on all-terrain vehicles.