Today is the 30th anniversary of a terrible day in Colorado history. That beautiful Saturday, a huge amount of rain fell in a very short time and went roaring down the Big Thompson Canyon. We were visiting my parents in the southern part of the state and heard the news - thinking, "Hmm, the Big Thompson River is flooding..." That's about it. When my sister called to say that we were going to have to boil our water when we got home, we started catching the gravity of the situation.
When we went home the next day, we couldn't believe what was happening. Ultimately, 139 people died and 6 bodies are still entombed somewhere in the canyon. The first person to die was the highway patrolman who went up and down the canyon warning people to get out of their campgrounds to safety. Many didn't listen and perished. It was fodder for many a good sermon in the weeks to come!
For the next several days it continued to drizzle and was very depressing. We could hear helicopters all day every day, attempting to rescue people off the rocks in the canyon - people had scrambled up cliffs like mountain goats trying to survive. Now when you drive up the canyon, you'll see signs every few miles warning you to go to high ground in the event of a flood.
Many horrific stories came out of this time - people eating in restaurants as they began to float down the canyon. Campers floating by with hissing propane containers. Six Campus Crusade girls singing to God as their car floated to their deaths. There was a huge water pipe crossing over the highway, probably 30 feet off the ground - it was totally crushed from the height and force of the water. The huge turbines of a hydroelectric plant in the canyon are all that remain to this day. You can see them if you picnic in the park that surrounded the plant.
As time went on and bodies began to be found, they set up a temporary morgue. Local pastors, including ours, were called upon to volunteer to meet with families who came from all over the world hoping to identify a body, or to learn that their loved ones were safely somewhere else. Our church joined others in feeding the Mennonite volunteers who came to help with the disaster. They were a blessing.
It was nothing like the devastation from Katrina last year, or many other disasters that have hit our world, but it was a terrible thing for our community. Especially for those whose loved ones were lost while they were vacationing in an idyllic spot, and for those who have never been found. God knows where they are!