Aug 212007
Authors: James Holt

A flash flood seeped into basements across Fort Collins earlier this month, leaving unwelcome damage to meet returning students this fall. The downpour served as a dismal reminder for residents who were affected by torrential waters 10 years ago.

Then and now, most residents and virtually all students do not have flood insurance, leaving homeowners and renters dead in the water.

On July 28, 1997, floodwaters inundated the CSU campus as well as much of Fort Collins. The water not only damaged the Lory Student Center, Morgan Library and surrounding homes; it took the lives of five women. That day, Sergeant Chris Wolf of the CSUPD was on duty on campus.

“When I got out of the car, I stepped in water up to my knees,” said Wolf who was helping to manage the 1,200 students in Moby Arena. “I was kind of in a dilemma. I was starting to get some flooding here at work but my home was starting to flood. What do I do? . I just had to hope that everything would be OK with my wife and house.”

Meanwhile, Wolf’s wife, Molly, was driving to their home on Dunbar and Swallow where her mother was watching their infant son. But the water running down the street became too much for her car.

Cut off from her house by the current streaming down her street, Molly sought refuge in a nearby apartment.

“My house was on the west side of the street, and I was on the east side. There was no way to get to my house,” said Molly who could only talk to her mother on the phone while the two of them stood by windows to see each other.

Two inches of floodwater filled the Wolf’s partially finished basement, bringing their losses to two damaged cars, a ruined carpet and a broken furnace. Their house was not insured for flood damage.

“We were somewhere around $10,000 worth of damage,” Wolf said. “We had to flip most the bill ourselves.”

After the flood, Molly spoke to a friend who worked in insurance about their damages.

“He initially told us if a log would have drifted in and broken our basement window to allow all the water in, it would have been covered because it wouldn’t have been the actual flood waters. It would have been the log,” Molly said. “He said ‘If I were you, I would just go throw a log through your window.'”

She didn’t.

Renters Insurance covers the items in an apartment or rental home that could be stolen, destroyed or damaged, but does not often include coverage for damage done by flooding.

A landlord’s building insurance does not cover the renters’ belongings inside the building. It is the renters’ responsibility to have their belongings covered by flood insurance.

Lucia Robbins, owner of Robbins Family Insurance Agency, deals Allstate flood insurance in Fort Collins.

“Everyone lives in a flood zone and just an inch of water can cause costly damage to your property,” Robbins said. “If a consumer is impacted by flooding and they do not have flood insurance, the cost to rebuild their lives could be in the tens of thousands of dollars.”

Though many students rent homes in Fort Collins, Robbins’ agency has only a small handful of student clients. Robbins can only speculate as to the reasons for the small number.

“Maybe it is felt Renters Insurance is not a need or may be too expensive,” she said. “In reality, for the price of a large pizza once a month, renters could buy themselves a larger order of piece of mind.”

Robbins says the semi-arid climate of the Colorado Front Range tends to lead to public ease or comfort regarding flood risk, but the steep terrain localizes storms and causes streams to rise rapidly. Flash flooding is always a danger.

“To purchase personal property coverage, even at the lowest amount, is better than not having any coverage at all,” Robbins said.

Other companies offering flood insurance in Fort Collins include John C. Beckett & Associates, Inc; Schwarz Agency; and State Farm Insurance.

“It just flooded and there was a lot of water damage all over the place,” said Nick Davis, a sophomore biochemistry major, of this summer’s storm. “It’s more necessary than I thought.”

George Foster, a sophomore Natural Resources major, says that the “50 year storms” make flood insurance necessary.

“But we’re students,” Foster said. “. and if that means paying more money, we’re probably not going to pay it.”

Reporter James Holt can be reached at


Timeline: “A Century of Flooding” (source:

– July 2007 – Rains flood basements

– April 30, 1999 – Fort Collins’ rivers overflow

– July 27-28, 1997 – The devastating Spring Creek Flood of ’97 kills five and damages homes and businesses

– June 24, 1992 – Storm sewers overflow into streets and downtown businesses

– July 24-25, 1977 – The second largest 1-day storm on record at the CSU main-campus gauge floods basements citywide

– August 3-4, 1951 – The Largest 2-day storm on record at the CSU gauge does $500,000 in property damage half of which suffered by Colorado A&M (Colorado State University)

– September 2-3, 1938 – Flooding along Spring Creek ends drought

– May 20-21, 1904 -Poudre River floods and destroys 150 homes as well as farmland

– September 20-21, 1902 – Storm raises Fossil Creek Reservoir by 19 feet

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