Large-scale air rescues have been launched in flood-hit Colorado, after a week of torrential rains in which eight people died finally gave way to sunny skies.

Hundreds of people are still missing, but that number has fallen from about 1,200 to half that number on Monday - largely thanks to clearer skies allowing helicopter rescues.

Much of the evacuation effort was focused on remote foothill and canyon areas in north-central Colorado, where many were stranded due to washed-out roads, bridges and communication lines.

In Boulder County alone, about 1,500 people had been moved to emergency shelters as of Sunday night and another 160 were rescued on Monday, most of them by helicopter.

Many of the evacuees had to be hoisted from rooftops and balconies one at a time, said county emergency management spokeswoman Liz Donaghey.

The number of dead rose to eight when an 83-year-old man was killed on Monday after being swept away by rising waters of Clear Creek, near Idaho Springs.

The other seven dead were three in Boulder County, two in El Paso County, and two missing presumed dead in Larimer County.

Officials say it could take weeks or even months to search through flood-ravaged areas looking for others who had died.

COLORADO IN PICTURES: FROM AL JAZEERA AMERICA

Meanwhile, many Colorado flood evacuees have returned home to toppled houses and upended vehicles. About 19,000 homes have either been damaged or destroyed in the flooding. 

''What now? We don't even know where to start,'' said Genevieve Marquez. ''It's not even like a day-by-day or a month.It's a minute by minute thing at this point."

Nina Larson, of Longmont, was trapped with a friend and her son in Hayden Court for eight hours before being rescued, while her husband Jeff Larson swam across flooded fields to get to his family.

"You kind of lose all thought of yourself, you just have to get to your family, that's it," he told Al Jazeera's Rob Reynolds.

Major roads were washed away or covered by mud and rock slides in mountain towns. Gas lines and sewers systems were also destroyed.

Hundreds of homes around Estes Park, next to Rocky Mountain national park, could be unreachable for up to a year, town administrator Frank Lancaster said.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies