DENVER (AP) — More highways in northern Colorado that were cut off because of destructive flooding last week are being reopened, helping reduce the number of people in need of emergency shelters and, transportation officials hope, reducing traffic congestion in heavily populated areas along the Front Range.
“I think for a lot of people it’s not returning to normal, per se, but it’s starting to get there with some of these roads being reopened,” said Amy Ford, a spokeswoman with the Colorado Department of Transportation.
The American Red Cross said fewer people are using their shelters now that they have access to their homes with some of the roads reopened. At the height of the disaster, more than 1,000 people were in shelters, compared to the 250 people in shelters Saturday, said Carmela Burke, a Red Cross volunteer.
Still, the Red Cross planned to deliver 17 truckloads of supplies to flood victims this weekend, she said.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is continuing to increase aid to those in flood-ravaged areas. So far, FEMA has distributed $12.3 million in aid, with the vast majority going to helping people find temporary rentals or making house repairs, said FEMA spokesman Jerry DeFelice.
On Friday, transportation officials reopened Colorado 119 between County Line and Interstate 25 in Longmont. Colorado 72 to Colorado 7 in Estes Park is also open, and officials are trying to reopen a stretch of U.S. Highway 34 in Loveland soon, Ford said.
Meanwhile, Coloradans watched for more spills in flooded oilfields as crews waited for the waters to recede so they could begin cleanup operations.
Four new spills were discovered Friday, including 2,400 gallons of oil from a toppled storage tank and almost 900 gallons from an unspecified source. Oil spilled from two other damaged tanks but authorities did not know how much. Another spill of 3,100 gallons was reported Saturday near Milliken, bringing the known volume of oil released since massive flooding began last week along Colorado’s Front Range to an estimated 25,000 gallons or about 600 barrels.
Most of the oil releases reported to date came from tanks operated by Texas-based Anadarko Petroleum Co. At least four of the releases reported by the company were in Weld County and spilled oil into the South Platte River or a tributary, according to information submitted to regulators.
Other companies might have suffered similar problems since flooding began last week, but they have not yet been able to assess their damage.
An aerial survey of the flood area on Thursday revealed up to two dozen overturned oil storage tanks, state regulators said. Releases from those tanks could not be immediately confirmed.
Authorities in Weld County have said their concern over spilled oil is eclipsed by much greater volumes of sewage and other contaminants washing into local waterways.
In other developments:
— The number of people unaccounted for dropped to around 60 thanks to door-to-door searches and restored communications. Seven people have died and three others are missing and presumed dead.
— Gov. John Hickenlooper approved another $20 million in emergency flood funding, bringing the total to $26 million, and expanded the disaster zone to include a total of 17 counties.
— Schools are making arrangements for students in flooded towns to head back to class. Students in Lyons will attend school in nearby Longmont starting next week while students in another mountain town may have a teacher sent to them.
Associated Press writers Colleen Slevin in Denver and Matthew Brown in Billings, Mont., contributed to this story.