No one would have guessed that an unobtrusive, peaceful stream running through the small city of Fort Collins would, in a matter of mere hours, become the source of miles of destruction.
Yet, 10 years ago, the usually tiny Spring Creek forced its way into local businesses and hundreds of homes in one night of tragedy.
CSU and its landscape were forever changed by the Flood of ’97. While some buildings and property were simply replaced or renovated after the water subsided, much of the university’s history was either ruined or lost.
Carmel Bush, assistant dean of Morgan Library, was one among the many witnesses who watched helplessly while the lower levels of the library filled with mucky water, consequently ruining more than 500,000 books.
“I watched the water come up the stairwell and then all of the alarms in the building started going off and the lights started flickering,” Bush said. “I didn’t know what to expect, there was a lot of uncertainty.”
People outside of the building later told her the building looked how a ship must look when it’s sinking.
“I felt a bit of sadness because all the materials downstairs were just submerged in water,” Bush said.
While Bush was waiting out the storm in the upper level of Morgan Library, across the plaza, Amy Satterfield, the Collegian adviser at the time of the flood, was watching the same violent waters take hold of the Lory Student Center.
Mario Caballero worked with Satterfield at Student Media and was also on campus when the water came rushing in.
“The entire lower level of the student center was basically blown out by this wall of water that came through here from Spring Creek,” said Caballero.
The wall of water that forced the doors of LSC to open completely occupied the basement levels within seconds.
“That’s the thing about flash floods, they come dramatically, quickly and then they go away and you don’t know where they are going to hit or how dramatic it’s going to be,” Satterfield said.
This time, the water came so quickly that it had already destroyed everything in the lower levels of the LSC before anyone could have prevented it.
“We were literally watching our computers and all our stuff float out of the windows,” she said. “Student Media was completely under.”
Both Bush and Satterfield watched the flood take away places that were dear to them, but both felt thankful for what they still had. Despite the many people on campus that day, including the thousands who were enrolled in summer classes, there were no human casualties at CSU.
“Everyone was safe at the university, but there was so much damage,” Satterfield said.
The bookstore lost the $5 million inventory for the upcoming fall semester.
And Student Media was completely devastated, losing almost everything, which forced the Collegian, KCSU and CTV to relocate and start from scratch.
Today, passersby can see a high-water mark in the LSC stairwell, not far from where the bowling alley was completely destroyed.
It took more than a year and hundreds of workers to sift through the damage and bring campus back to shape. Over 30 buildings were damaged, and garbage and saturated furniture littered the campus in the aftermath.
“During the first year after the flood, we worked a tremendous number of hours, and it took several years to get a settlement,” Bush said.
Eventually CSU did receive an insurance payout, which helped alleviate the more than $100 million in damages.
And although the university has recuperated from the devastating experience of the 1997 flash flood, all the materials lost have certainly not been replaced.
“Not everything has been restored,” Bush said. “You can’t really replace everything that had been accumulated over 100 years.”
News Managing Editor Jessi Stafford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.