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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. It is being called an historic search and rescue operation. Authorities in Colorado say well over a thousand people have been rescued by helicopter from mountain areas ravaged by floods. Some parts of the state have received 14 inches of rain since a storm began pounding the region Wednesday night. At least four people have been reported killing in the storms. NPR's Kirk Siegler has more.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: Authorities here still don't know the full extent of the destruction from these floods. Roads and bridges are leveled. Stretches of main highways linking mountain towns to the state's urban Front Range are wiped out. Parts of small farming towns along the Plains were underwater as the flood water busted through diversion dams and spilled over ditches. After touring the devastation by air, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper pledged the state would recover.

GOVERNOR JOHN HICKENLOOPER: We're going to rebuild better than it was before. And as a community, we're going to come out stronger after this storm than we were before.

SIEGLER: Hickenlooper was late to that briefing yesterday because the chopper he was touring in spotted four people waving frantically. They were stranded down in the Big Thompson Canyon. The helicopter scooped down into a tight draw and picked them up. So far, the only way to rescue most people trapped in the mountains has been by air because roads are impassible. The finding and accounting for everyone is the biggest challenge but Hickenlooper said slowly but surely people are getting out.

HICKENLOOPER: We can't control the weather, right? We've learned that the hard way over the last 18 months. But we can control how we respond to it, right? You know, when Vermont, New Jersey went through it with Irene and their various hurricanes, they all talked about, you know, New Jersey strong. I think we're Colorado tough.

SIEGLER: Those assurances from the Governor struck a familiar tone in this state that's been ravaged lately by destructive wildfires, severe drought and now these massive and deadly floods. Yesterday, evacuation orders were lifted in parts of Boulder and Longmont. But scores of businesses remain shuttered and hundreds of people are still in shelters here. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Longmont, where the swelling St. Vrain River spilled over its banks and swept a torrent of water into nearby apartments for seniors and mobile home parks.

JOSE SOTO: We want to know what's going to happen.

SIEGLER: Outside a shelter, Jose Soto was eating a sandwich and taking swigs off a bottle of water distributed by the Salvation Army.

SOTO: We are OK since we are alive.

SIEGLER: But even when the evacuation orders are lifted, Soto's not sure where he and his family will go. He says much of their home and neighborhood is a mess of mud and gravel and downed trees. Kirk Siegler, NPR News, Boulder.

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