Four year old Elijah Obrien looks at his muddy basement which was damaged when recent floods swept through Longmont, Colo., Wednesday Sept. 18, 2013. As water recedes and flows east onto the Colorado plains, rescuers are shifting their focus from emergency airlifts to trying to find the hundreds of people still unaccounted for after last week's devastating flooding. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)
By Keith Coffman
BOULDER, Colo. (Reuters) - Four people were dead and thousands were being evacuated on Friday as flood waters raged through parts of Colorado and the National Guard used military vehicles in a small town to rescue up to 2,000 residents.
Taking advantage of a break in record rains that have caused Colorado's worst flooding in over three decades, Guard members went door to door in the remote town of Lyons to ferry residents to safety.
Residents brought "their suitcases and their precious household items along with their pets and everything, all getting loaded in the back of these vehicles," said Colorado National Guard spokesman First Lieutenant Skye Robinson.
The flooding, which toppled buildings and forced thousands from their homes, was triggered by unusually intense late-summer storms that drenched Colorado's biggest urban centers, from Fort Collins near the Wyoming border through Boulder, Denver and Colorado Springs to the south.
Boulder and a string of towns along the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains north of Denver were especially hard hit as water poured down rain-soaked mountains and spilled through canyons that funneled the runoff into populated areas below.
Lyons, north of Boulder, was virtually cut off when floodwaters washed out U.S. Route 36, and residents have been without water and power for 48 hours, said Mike Banuelos, a spokesman for the Boulder County Emergency Operations Center.
"It's a pretty dangerous situation," he said.
The fourth fatality, a woman, was part of a couple swept away in floodwaters after stopping their car northwest of Boulder. The man's body was recovered but the woman was missing and had been feared dead.
Also killed were a person whose body was found in a collapsed building near Jamestown, an evacuated enclave north of Boulder and a man whose body was discovered during flood-watch patrols in Colorado Springs, about 100 miles to the south, officials said.
The flooding was the worst in the state since nearly 150 people were killed near Boulder in 1976 by a flash flood along the Big Thompson Canyon. President Barack Obama approved a federal disaster assistance request, which will release funds to help with emergency protection.
(Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis and Dan Whitcomb; Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Diane Craft)