Monday, July 31, 2006

Floods of Memories

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!


MugwumpMom said...

Is there a website or something where one can read up more about this? Being in Canada, I'd never heard of this before. How tragic and to happen in your community.
Thank you for sharing the story.


Nikkie said...

I'd never heard of this either! This is a tragic story, thank you for sharing it.

Jessica said...

I never knew about this! Thanks for posting this. History is so important!

BTW...this is my first time at your blog...please feel free to stop by mine and say hello as well. Although I have a blogger blog is updated at

Rhonda said...

Sorry to comment off-topic, but I wanted to say hi and thanks for stoping by my blog today.
When I was a little girl, I went to the Christian school at the Nazarene Church and it was a very good experience.
I'll read more here as I have the time.
God bless,

Diane said...

I remember it well, and there's a documentary they show on either Discovery or the Learning Channel about it. It was a sad, terrible day. Flash floods kill more people in the US every year than tornadoes, lightning, or any other natural disaster. We have them here in Arkansas, too, but not usually to that degree.

Hope you're doing well, Dawn. ;-)

kpjara said...

It's sad these very tragedies are what is required to pull a community together.

OKC, some 11 years post-bombing and HUGE loss of lives, is virtually back to the same place it was before the bombing.

I don't recall this sad the stories of people going to their deaths!

Kristen said...

And then there was the great flood of 1997. Not nearly as tragic, but I don't remember the other one, seeing's how I was only one years old.

Wystful1 said...

I remember this!! We WERE in Colorado living back fact I have a blog entry about it too. It's in my archives. I'll go pick it up and come back and post it here so you can view.

Wystful1 said...

Here is my blog entry about it -- the Big Thompson flood.

Big Thompson Flood