Loveland, CO Devastating Canyon Flooding, Aug 1976

Flood Rescue US 34 Devastation Memorial Site

AT LEAST 60 PERISH AS WALL OF WATER RIPS THROUGH BIG THOMPSON CANYON.

Loveland -- Coloradans waiting out more rains to search for the dead and to rescue the surviving in Big Thompson Canyon Monday -- and others awaiting word on neighbors and relatives -- saw the state's centennial weekend come and go in mourning.
At least 60 were dead and hundreds injured and stranded after flash flood waters Saturday night swept the canyon from Estes Park area down stream during 10-inch rains, swelling the Big Thompson River and its north fork into killing flows.
President Proclaims Disaster.
President Ford Monday declared Colorado eligible for major federal disaster aid Gov. Richard Lamm earlier had declared Larimer County a disaster area and requested federal aid, joined by Sen. Gary Hart and Congressman James Johnson.
Larimer County officials, viewing the death, injuries and still-isolated groups of campers and canyon residents as well as structures, trailers and vehicles shattered or swept away, could only say damage would be "very, very extensive," in the millions of dollars.
ALthough at least 60 were known dead Monday, with some on-scene law officers estimating the death toll could exceed 100, the first identified flood victim was Colorado State Patrol Sgt. HUGH PURDY, 53, Loveland, swept from his car as he sought to warn residents and campers.
Weld Residents Thought Dead.
Indications were that some current and former Greeley and Weld County residents were thought to have died in the flood. Many other county residents were rescued.
Miraculously, officials said, searchers later found a five-month-old baby boy on a rock in mid-river.
Law officers speculated some bodies might be found as far east as Nebraska in coming weeks. Some may never be found, they said. Some dead were found 12 miles downstream along the Big Thompson from the canyon.
Officers said some, warned Saturday night before the flash flooding of 10 feet or so swept through, did not evacuate the canyon.
Search Continues.
Officials said 100 or more law officers, National Guardsmen and volunteers were to continue search and rescue efforts Monday. Eleven helicopters were reported standing by for evacuation airlifts, awaiting further rains, wind and low clouds to lift.
Some 840 to 860 stranded canyon survivors were reported as hiking, driving or being flown out by late Sunday. Estimates ranged from 200 to 400 of those still stranded in the canyon area Monday. Officers earlier had said as many as 4,000 may have been in the canyon Saturday.
Dead of all ages.
Dead recovered by Monday were reported in range in estimated age from three to about 65, many older and a majority reported to be females. Very few children were reported among the dead, observers said.
Highway spokesmen said about 16 miles of U. S. 34 through the canyon, from four miles east of Estes Park to the Dam Store, was largely destroyed. Reports indicated replacement will take a number of years.
With few significant damage reports coming from Estes Park, that city's sewer main, however was reported broken by flood waters, polluting the river along with smashed systems from canyon residences and motels.
Power Plant Destroyed.
Loveland city officials indicated that city had a limited water supply in tanks, and were urging water use only for meals and drinking. Old Loveland power plant in the canyon was destroyed.
With rain in the area Sunday night and possible heavy rains and further flooding in the northern mountains and eastern plains forecast for Monday, Gov. Richard Lamm declared the canyon and downstream areas a disaster area Sunday after touring and flying over it.
Lemm said he would ask federal aid to help rebuild the flooded, shattered and -- in some cases -- eliminated mountain communities and residence areas.
U. S. Sen. Gary Hart, D-Colo., said he had asked President Ford for emergency aid, planned to tour the area and seek further aid from laws and existing federal programs.
Fourth District Congressman James Johnson toured the area Sunday, officials said, and was slated to return again Monday or early in the week.
10 Inches Of Rain.
Massive hail and rains in the area Saturday night were placed in various locals at 10 or more inches for the entire night.
Larimer County officials said the normally low, placid Big Thompson River basin from Estes Park to Loveland turned into a torrent. Officials said a wall of water estimated at 10 or 12 feet tore through the canyon and downstream areas after dark Saturday.
Resort communities and recreation areas were flooded or twisted up and carried away. Cars, trucks, campers, trailers, trees, debris and bodies were swept downstream in the flash flood.
Propane Tanks Explode.
Sheriff's officers and survivors reported pressurized propane tanks torn from cabins and recreational vehicles were exploding in the torrent as they struck large debris or abutments of wrecked bridges.
Residence, motels and bridges near or over the river were swept away.
Officials said 12 to 15 miles of the U.S. 34 canyon route was flooded or destroyed.
Only 4 MIles of Road Intact.
State district highway engineer Dwight Bower of Greeley flew over the area Sunday, saying he personally saw about 300 persons in or on cars along a four-mile stretch of U.S. 34, the only intact portion in a 15-mile stretch of U.S., the only intact portion in a 15-mile stretch viewed.
Sheriff's officers and others reported survivors literally clinging to steep slopes and walls of the canyon during the night and early Sunday.
A patrol car from the Larimer sheriff's office and one from the State Patrol, and a Loveland ambulance were lost in the torrent.
With rescue helicopters operating along with National Guardsmen, law officers, volunteers and some volunteered heavy-duty vehicles, Larimer County Sheriff Bob Watson said searchers would have to trek the canyon for bodies literally "beating the bushes."
Search To Continue.
"It (the canyon) is a quagmire right now," said Watson. "We've seen bodies from the air. We know we have more bodies there. This is going to go on for any number of days."
Watson and the Larimer county commissioners were to confer Monday on working with state and federal officials in search, rescue and long-term disaster relief efforts.
Rain started falling about 5 p.m. Saturday, authorities said. Watson said in the one to two hours before the water crested in the area, rainfall was placed at varying locales at from four to seven inches.
Watson said his Fort Collins based office received earliest notice of flood danger about 8:15 p.m. Saturday.
Warnings Issued.
He said sherriff's deputies began driving the canyon area, warning residents and campers. Watson said some areas were warned up to three times.
However he said many campers and residents disregarded the warnings.
"It was a small, gentle stream," he said. "People had been camping by it, and fishing and tubing in it. But then ......"
"I couldn't even believe it would develop like that," he added.
Watson said a major storm and flooding hit in 1962 in the Buckhorn Creek area west of Loveland, but was not comparable.
He said this was the worst Larimer County disaster in his experience.
Fort Collins police official DAVE FELDMAN said residential and resort areas hard hit and with numerous reported fatalities included the Cedar Cove and Grandpa's Retreat resort areas around Drake, Drake itself and the River Front trailer and camper park west of Loveland.
Grandps's Retreat Wiped Out.
WATSON said Grandpa's Retreat usually has 20 to 30 trailers and campers there on summer weekends. "That place was scoured clean," said WATSON. "There wasn't even a blade of grass left up there."
WATSON said, "Bodies were scattered against trees and other places downstream. Cars, vehicles, trailers and debris were overturned and scattered everywhere. They looked like toys rushing downstream."
Some 'Dragged Feet.'
"We had a few who dragged their feet, but we gave them exception," said ENGLEBERT.
"Every resident contacted was forced to leave the area. We just barely got out of there in time ourselves."
He said the waters hit the last bridge "aminute or two after we got off it."
BOB and ANN MORRIS, Lexington, Neb., fled their flooding motel room. "My wife fell down in the current," said MORRIS. "I went back for her and we were swept along until a man pulled us out. We saw people float by in cars. We saw one man in a tree. It was horrible."
The vacationing GEORGE RASSMUSSON family of Bellvue, Neb., fled to high ground. "We heard the horrible noise, like a jet plane exploding," said MRS. RASMUSSON. "We heard girls screaming and we ran for high ground."
They spent the night on the canyon slope, returning in the morning to get clothing from their cabin. They were evacuated by helicopter.
Survivor LYLE PRESTON of Oklahoma City said this would be his last vacation in the Rockies. "This is it for vacations in Colorado," he said. "That flood took my pickup and crumbled it into a ball. We never knew it was coming."
Two persons allowed into a temporary morgue at Loveland Memorial Hospital were CLARK and PATTY COE, who spent Sunday afternoon searching for their missing brother, ROY, a multiple sclerosis victim who had a cabin in the canyon.
"We spent the whole day looking," COE said. "He has MS and can't get around too well. He's not in a wheelchair, but he uses crutches. The sheriff said everything in the area where the cabin was had been wiped out."
A young auburn-haired woman with a puppy on a leash was evacuated from the canyon by helicopter, landing about 2 p.m. Sunday in a field west of Loveland. She lived in the canyon about two miles before Drake, and had spent the night in the canyon. About the survivors in that area still were awaiting evacuation, she said, many of them older persons.
Identification To Take Weeks.
Sheriff's spokesmen said in the early hours after the disaster that full location and identification of victims could take weeks or months.
Watson said deputies warned residents in many areas up to three times, using loud speakers. "But some people simply did not believe us. They didn't want to move. They were ready for bed and didn't want to leave."
A Weld sheriff's deputy reported debris from the upstream disaster was seen along the South Platte River at dawn Sunday.
Mud Slides in Poudre.
Watson said rain and heavy mud slides occurred in the Cache la Poudre River canyor north of Fort Collins, but no deaths, injuries or significant damage was reported.
A U.S. 287 bridge north of Virginia Dale near the Wyoming border was washed out. Watson said there was an early, but never confirmed report of a drowning death in low-lying land near Livermore, near U.S. 287 east of the popular Red Feather Lakes recreation area.
FELDMAN and WATSON said 2,000 to 4,000 persons were estimated in the canyon area Saturday night. They said helicopters were bringing out about 100 per hour Sunday.
600-800 Evacuated.
WATSON estimated 600 to 800 had been evacuated by late afternoon Sunday, about half of them sustaining some injuries.
Of 150 Colorado National Guardsmen mobilized by the governor, WATSON said about 40 were being dropped into the area late Sunday to aid survivors and get them started on self-help efforts to take their minds off their plight.
Survivors were told by radio and pamphlet to get names of survivors in their areas and possible victims, boil needed water, stay on high ground and await rescue operations which would resume at dawn Monday.
They were told to build large signs, "A" if medical aid was needed, "W" for needed water and "OK" if no immediate care was needed.
However, the pamphlet grimly ended, "We are expecting more rain tonight (Sunday)."
Some Bodies Downstream.
WATSON said he was certain bodies had been swept downstream past Loveland, possibly to the South Platte. Besides refusal of some to evacuate before the flood, he said some persons were adding to confusion by returning to look for loved ones afterward.
"We're still finding bodies," said State Patrol Capt. WILLIAM THOMAS Sunday. THOMAS said U.S. 34 in the canyon Narrows area was gone. "There is no Narrows Road," he said.
Besides the State Patrol, Larimer sheriff's officers and Loveland and Fort Collins police, rescue and control efforts were supported by national guardsmen and some law officers from other areas, inclulding Boulder County.
WATSON said offers of aid had come from Denver and Arapahoe County among others.
Helicopters Drop Guardsmen.
Besides the guardsmen dropped in by helicopter, officials said perimeter stations were to be set up about dark Sunday to aid any survivors thereafter who might walk out.
Hundreds of volunteers, 30 sheriff possee members and about 20 four-wheel drive vehicles were being called into the effort.
Evacuation Sunday to two fields west of Loveland was by six helicopters, four from the Colorado National Guard and two from St. Anthony's hospital in Denver. They were averaging four trips an hour each, bringing out about 100 persons hourly, FELDMAN said.
WATSON said about six more helicopters had been requested, including larger Chinook helicopters from the National Guard. He said they could double numbers per trip.
Survivors were being taken to Loveland Memorial Hospital, or, if not injured, to a large Red Cross station at Loveland High School in the northwest part of the city. At the high school volunteers aided survivors, survivor lists were posted and a massive amount of donated clothing was available.
Temporary Morgue Set Up.
At a temporary morgue at Loveland Memorial Hospital, coroner's officials, doctors and Red Cross volunteers classified bodies by sex, apparent age and any scars or tattoos. Bodies also were fingerprinted and checked for items such as wedding rings.
Officials said major efforts at identification, and victim identity announcements would not start until Monday.
"We want to minimize this business of relatives going down a line of corpses and the trauma that goes with it," said FRANK N. BALES, a rescue operations officer.
Coroner MICHALE CHARNEY said, "When we get a good description that seems to fit, we will uncover three or four bodies." He noted many victims were from out of state, but said a couple of identifications had been received from local people, however, 'nothing definite.'"
Bodies Stripped Of Identification.
Officials said many bodies had been stripped of identification by the flood waters. Deputy Coroner TED FISHBURN said bodies at the morgue were checked, classified, fingerprinted and "cleaned up before we release them to local mortuaries for embalming."
"We're getting ready for identification procedures."
BALES said operations were "being troubled by sightseers." " Extensive and serious operations are in progress and it is essential to have sightssrs out of all areas." Police guarded doors of the hospital to keep out the curious.
The Big Thompson Canyon flood was the first in the nation with loss of life since Idaho's Teton Dam failure in June. It was the worst flood disaster in loss of life since the Rapid City, S.D., flood of 1972.
Last major state flood with loss of life was the South Platte River flood to eastern Colorado in 1965 in which 26 died.

Greeley Tribune Colorado 1976-08-02
There were 145 fatalities in this natural disaster. Following is a list from the www.idreamof.com site. Please visit this site on the Big Thompson Canyon Flood. It is a beautiful and very emotional site.
GREG ADAMS, 27, Loveland, CO.
JOSEPH APPLEBAUM, 68, Lakewood, CO.
NORMA APPLEBAUM, 68, Lakewood, CO.
IRENE BACK, 48, Denver, CO.
WILLIAM RAY BACK, 55, Commerce City, CO.
KEITH BAILEY, 51, Big Thompson Canyon, CO.
STANNIS BASHFORD, 17, Loveland, CO.
LOUISE BECKER, 75, Waverly, IA.
ELEANOR BELL, 51, Drake, CO.
MYRL BELL, 52, Drake, CO.
TERRI BISSING, 27, Glenwood Springs, CO.
FRANCES BOKELMAN, 62, Big Thompson Canyon, CO.
DORA BROOKS, 40, Austell, GA.
ELBERT BROOKS, 41, Austell, GA.
PFC ELAINE CAMPBELL, 20, Ft. Carson, CO.
STANLEY J. CARLSON, 22, Greeley, CO.
TANYA CARLSON, 19, Greeley, CO.
JAMES M. CARR, 21, Loveland, CO.
ETTA MARIE CARTER, 56, Belleville, IL.
GENEVIEVE H. CHANNER, 62, Drake, CO.
GLENN CHANNER, 65, Drake, CO.
MICHAEL O. CONLEY, 30, Colorado Springs, CO. Estes Park Policeman.
LARRY CURTIS, 25, Sterling, CO.
VERNA DECKER, 94, Drake, CO.
NORMAN W. EYL, 58, Big Thompson Canyon, CO.
MARY JEAN FELTS, 29, Springfield, IL
JUNE FUJIWARA, 27, Maui, HI
MILDRED GAFF, 50, Denver, CO.
RICHARD GODDARD, 19, Denver, CO.
BEVERLY GRAHAM, 33, Loveland, CO.
CLARA GRAHAM, 64, Cedar Grove, CO.
LISA GRAHAM, 2, Loveland, CO.
TERESA GRAHAM, 9, Loveland, CO. (never located)
VALAH CONSTANCE GREENLEE, 84, Big Thompson Canyon, CO.
GREG HARMON, 18, Keokuk, IA.
CHAD HASKELL, 5, Des Moines, IA.
EMMA HASKELL, 63, Des Moines, IA.
JUDY HASKELL, 31, Des Moines, IA.
WILLIAM F. HASKELL, 70, Des Moines, IA.
WILLIAM HASKELL, 32, Des Moines, IA.
CLARENCE HAZZARD, 73, Austin, TX.
FRANCES HENRY, 36, Drake, CO.
GEORGE HENRY, 51, Drake, CO.
LAURIE LEE HENRY, 9, Drake, CO.
SHIRLEE ANN HENRY, 14, Drake, CO.
DOROTHY HOBBS, 66, Drake, CO.
ELLIS HOBBS, 68, Drake, CO.
KIMBERLY HORTON, 18, Aurora, CO.
RICHARD HUFFSMITH, 19, Loveland, CO.
KEN HUFNAGLE, 66, Loveland, CO.
NORA HUFNAGLE, 67, Loveland, CO.
HELEN EVELYN JENKINS, 61, Denver, CO.
DOROTHY JOBST, 57, Omaha, NE.
REV. EUGENE JOBST, 57, Omaha, NE.
RAE ANN JOHNSTON, 28, Crystal, ND.
DEBRA KOCH KARSTENS, 22, Loveland, CO.
DON KARSTENS, 23, Loveland, CO.
EVELYN KINDRED, 62, Drake, CO.
KURT KOERNER, 20, Arvada, CO.
ED KRONENBERGER, 52, Littleton, CO.
ESTER KRONENBERGER, 50, Littleton, CO.
KIM KRONENBERGER, 22, Littleton, CO.
MILDRED LAFFERTY, 58, Drake, CO.
PAT LAFFERTY, 61, Drake, CO.
EALY A. LEE, 62, Loveland, CO.
KELLY LEMON, 13, Des Moines, IA.
BARBARA LEYDEN, 29, McLean, VA.
ANDREW LOHRY, 73, Drake, CO.
ELIZABETH LOHRY, 47, Drake, CO.
CATHIE M. LOOMIS, 29, Seattle, WA.
BRENDA LORENCE, 15, Phillipsburg, KS.
DEBBIE LORENCE, 13, Phillipsburg, KS.
JIM LORENCE, 43, Phillipsburg, KS.
PHYLLIS LORENCE, 41, Phillipsburg, KS.
BENJAMIN MACIEJEWSKI, 48, Big Thompson Canyon, CO.
BETTY MACIEJEWSKI, 49, Big Thompson Canyon, CO.
PRISCILLA MANONGDO, 28, Quezon City, Philippines.
ALLYSON MARES, 5, Big Thompson Canyon, CO.
JAMES MARES, JR., 33, Big Thompson Canyon, CO.
JAMIE MARES, 8, Big Thompson Canyon, CO.
RENEE MARES, 32, Big Thompson Canyon, CO.
RICKY MARES, 6, Big Thompson Canyon, CO.
EULA MARSHALL, 77, Wichita, KS.
GEORGE MATTHEWS, 17, Aurora, CO.
KATHERINE, MATTHEWS, 54, Aurora, CO.
LOIS McCARGO, 63, Big Thompson Canyon, CO.
GEORGE W. McCARTY, JR., 20, Newport, RI.
JACK McKISSACK, 58, Aurora, CO.
DR. JEFFREY, MILLER, 27, Greeley, CO.
DEBORAH MOORE, 17, Drake, CO.
HOMER MORGAN, 21, Aurora, CO.
DOROTHY MORNINGSTAR, 69, Lisbon, IA.
LEON MORNINGSTAR, 65, Lisbon, IA.
CHARLES E. MORTON, 62, Drake, CO.
MYRTLE NELSON, 45, Fleming, CO.
WILLIAM NELSON, 48, Fleming, CO.
TENA-MARIE OGLEY, 19, Ovid, CO.
NETTIE OLER, 52, Longmont, CO.
NONA J. PALMER, 19, Denver, CO.
JOHN JOSEPH PLANT, 42, Broomfield, CO.
JUDY PLANT, 37, Broomfield, CO.
MICHAEL PLANT, 14, Broomfield, CO.
GRACE PRIMM, 79, Kansas City, MO.
Sgt. W. HUGH PURDY, 53, Loveland, CO. Colorado State Patrolman.
FRANCES REMSING, 48, Big Thompson Canyon, CO.
MARTIN J. REMSING, 65, Loveland, CO.
MARTIN REMSING, 8, Big Thompson Canyon, CO.
CAROL L. RHOAD, 23, Grantsville, PA.
ELIZABETH RICHARDSON, 54, Springfield, MO.
LEONARD RICHARDSON, 59, Springfield, MO.
LISA RICHARDSON, 16, Springfield, MO.
REBECCA RICHARDSON, 9, Springfield, MO.
ELLEN ROGERS, 58, Brighton, CO.
WES ROGERS, 59, Brighton, CO.
CHERYL RUDD, 19, Greeley, CO.
EUGENE SAUNDERS, 65, Lawrence, KS.
LaVERA SAUNDERS, 60, Lawrence, KS.
IRENE SCAVONE, 77, Oak Lawn, IL.
CLAUDE SCHELL, 86, Greeley, CO.
MAE L. SCHELL, 70, Greeley, CO.
CATHERINE SCHLATTER, 23, Denver, CO.
ANNIE GUSSIE SEIBERT, 61, Caldwell, TX.
CASPER LOUIS SEIBERT, 62, Caldwell, TX.
REX SHEETS, 26, Loveland, CO.
EARL SMITH, 30, Drake, CO.
JACOB SMITH, 3, Elgin, IL.
JOSEPH S. SMITH, 64, Drake, CO.
LYLITH SMITH, 57, Lexington, TN.
ANN STARR, 80, Loveland, CO.
SHIRLEY STINNETT, 56, Kansas City, MO.
DREW H. TURNER, 25, Fort Collins, CO.
ROSS VENRICK, 61, Catawba, OH.
CLARENCE WATERS, 63, Riviera, AZ.
MARY SUE WATERS, 62, Riviera, AZ.
CHERYL WATSON, 21, Loveland, CO.
AARON WATTS, 3, Fort Collins, CO.
BEULAH WEISS, 60, Loveland, CO.
EDNA MAY WOODRING, 57, Estes Park, CO.
FRED WOODRING, 63, Estes Park, CO.