Victims remembered on 10th anniversary of Fort Collins Flood
FORT COLLINS – Victims’ families and survivors gathered to mark the 10th anniversary of a flood that tore through a Fort Collins neighborhood, killing five people and wreaking hundreds of millions of dollars in damage.Record-breaking rains sent a 10- to 20-foot wall of water crashing along Spring Creek near Colorado State University’s main campus. The disaster spawned several changes, including tighter floodplain restrictions and a growing national weather-watching program aimed at getting information immediately to forecasters.The largest impacts, though, were on the people who lost loved ones, their homes and property.Josie Loera, whose mother died in the flood, said her family returns every year to the park by the creek.”It’s good to see people come out and remember,” Loera said during a memorial Saturday.50 people attend ceremonyAt least 50 people gathered in Creek Side Park, took a candlelit walk and dedicated a plaque.Chris Woodward, a flood survivor who now lives in Windsor, said the night of July 28, 1997, is still fresh in his mind.”It was scary and I couldn’t believe it happened so fast and accumulated so much water in so little time,” Woodward said.Four of the five people who died lived in mobile home parks, which were flooded when water gushing along Spring Creek topped a 19-fooot-tall embankment and blew out a culvert. Water levels rose more than 5 feet in three minutes, lifting mobile homes off their foundations and sending cars tumbling like toys.Being a survivorPeople scrambled to the tops of buildings and clung to trees. Ruth Champion and her 9-year-old son, Andrew, swam to a storage shed, climbed on top and waited to be rescued after their duplex filled with muddy, churning water.”I decided then I wasn’t going to die in that disgusting water,” Champion said. “I decided to fight.”Rescuers arriving at the scene found homes flooded and burning and people screaming for help. A washed-out railroad embankment caused a train to derail and a nearby liquor store exploded from a broken natural gas line.”It’s amazing more people weren’t killed or hurt,” said John Lippert, a captain with Poudre Fire Authority. “We had firefighters who really pushed the envelope that night.”Rescuers waded into the water not knowing what was there. Others broke into a scuba diving shop to get life jackets and inflatable boats.The aftermath was nearly as chaotic, Champion said. She said dealing with the bureaucracy of government and nonprofit agencies was wearing. Replacing household items and finding a permanent place to live took months.’Felt like a victim'”You felt like a victim,” Champion said. “I couldn’t stand that.”The flood motivated Nolan Doesken to start the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow network in 1998. Doesken, the state climatologist and an atmospheric science researcher at Colorado State, said the program is aimed at detailing differences in precipitation amounts across large areas.Rainfall amounts the night of the flood varied drastically across the city, with areas on the west side receiving more than a foot while less than 2 inches fell elsewhere.Doesken said he believed having a volunteer network of precipitation-measuring stations over broad areas would generate information researchers could use to better understand weather patterns as well as the nature of large storms and how they are affected by the landscape.The Larimer County-based program spread to include all of Colorado and, with help from federal grants, now covers 18 states and the District of Columbia.Doesken said the night of the flood, no one, including him, called the National Weather Service to say the city was experiencing extraordinarily heavy rainfall and widespread flooding.”That bothers me to this day,” Doesken said.