flipped these cars over.
Dealing with floods is a complicated task. Local fire and police departments are the first wave of a rescue squad that might include the state police, the National Guard or even the U.S. Army.
Different kinds of floods cause different problems for
officials. In a fast-moving flash flood, like the one in Fort
Collins, Colorado, the key is saving people. In a slow rising flood,
like the ones in Grand
Forks, North Dakota,and Oder
flood in eastern Europe, the focus shifts from rescue to preventing
damage to property.
The water that ripped through Fort Collins, Colorado on July 28th, 1997 wasn't the latest natural disaster movie, it was an example of the most dangerous type of floods, the flash flood. Flash floods occur when a large amount of rain falls in a short period of time. They can sweep through an area without warning and cause devastation to people's homes and lives.
Rain began falling in Fort Collins at noon. The water piled up behind a railway embankment. Then, suddenly, around 11pm, while people slept in the nearby South College and Johnson Center trailer parks, a wall of water nearly two stories high broke through the embankment and swept down on the unsuspecting residents. The water tore through the park, flipping trailers and submerging cars.
"However long it takes to drop Ramen noodles into a pan of water and wait for them to boil, that's how quick the water rolled in," said Ian Leverette, a Fort Collins resident.
Flash flood rescue.
The first rescue squads to arrived on the scene encountered a disaster few were prepared for.
"When we got there, there were children hanging on trees," Jim Pietrangelo, of the Fort Collins fire department, said. "It was indescribable the amount of water that was there when we pulled up. We had people standing on mobile homes -- people trapped. I've never seen anything like this in my life. It was like a dream. It was pure mayhem. The water was some 10- to 12-feet deep."
Although local fire and rescue units arrived quickly and saved over a hundred residents, five people drowned before help arrived.
"Once every 500 years."
Most cities located near rivers have emergency plans in place for flash floods. But officials in Fort Collins said there was no way to plan for the July 28-29 incident. According to the National Weather Service, the flood was a once every 500 years event.
Often floods cause other catastrophes. The water can knock down power lines and live wires can cause fires. Sometimes power surges cause machinery to explode or flash floods are so strong, they can carry cars off the road and trains off the tracks.
This is what happened at Fort Collins. "How can you anticipate 10 inches of rain, a building exploding, three trailers on fire, a train derailment and over 100 people that need to be rescued -- all at the same time?" said Glenn Levy, Fort Collins' emergency management coordinator. "There is no plan in the world that can handle that."
Unlike the devastating flood that hit Fort Collins, the people of Grand Forks, North Dakota and across the Red River in East Grand Forks, Minnesota knew what was headed towards them and had time to get ready.
Why did the Red River flood?
Three things caused the Red River to flood: a heavy snow melt, a steady rain, and a river blocked with ice led to a slow accumulation of water too great for the river to carry downstream.
While local authorities in Fort Collins had to search for survivors, in North Dakota the goal was to prevent the flood from destroying homes and businesses.
In April 1997, local communities along the Red River had two weeks warning before the water reached a record level. As the river rose, residents put garbage bags filled with sand along the river to try to keep it contained. The trick was to the build up river walls, or dikes, big and strong enough to keep the water back.
Fighting a war against the river.
Congressman Collin Peterson described the scene in East Grand Forks, MN just before the flood came. "Everything was breaking loose and everyone was scrambling. It was a war against the river," he said.
Volunteers on the line across the river in North Dakota felt the same way. The night the river broke through the walls, volunteers, National Guard members and others worked feverishly to push the river back.
"That last Friday I sandbagged all night," Darin King, a Grand Forks resident, said. "With all the helicopters and sirens going off in the darkness, one older man turned to me and said it was like Vietnam all over again, and I imagine that's exactly what it felt like."
After weeks of preparation, the two cities' braced for the river's high water mark or crest. When it hit that Friday night it was even higher than they had expected. Despite their efforts, the river won. Both cities were evacuated and thousands of acres of land were flooded.
How the river won.
Some of those who had struggled to stay ahead of the flood were simply relieved that the fight was finished.
"I'm glad its over," said Tom Dunham told the Grand Forks Herald, as he wandered around the house in a pair of knee boots the following day. "I mean, I guess I finally know what the answer is -- how this is all going to turn out now. It's been round the clock for the last four or five days, running the pumps, trying to stay ahead of the water, and now I don't have to wonder any more."
Although the flood caused tens of millions of dollars of damage, no one died and the problems the police and other faced after the flood was very different than those of Fort Collins. Nearly half a year later, Grand Forks is still recovering. Many of the downtown buildings were so damaged that they had to be torn down and rebuilt. Congress passed a disaster relief bill which gives 5.5 billion dollars to help residents whose homes and property were damaged by the Red River flooding.
tries to save his property.
were farm animals.
Dangerous floods don't just happen in America. During the month of July, the worst flood in a century hit the Oder River in Eastern Europe.
The Oder River runs from the south to the north and divides Germany and Poland (see map to the left). The ancient river is contained by an series of man-made walls and canals, but the vast amount of water that entered the area in mid-July overran the barriers. For weeks, different parts of the Oder overflowed-- placing the whole area on red alert. In some areas the wooden and stone walls of the river were so water-logged that they were "like pudding," according to officials.
Life in eastern Europe goes topsy-turvy.
As the Oder River rose, thousands fled their homes. The United States sent volunteers and relief supplies such as tents, blankets, clean drinking water, and food. Factories, roads, bridges, railways, schools, farmlands and animals were swept away by the swiftly flowing water. Local Red Cross organizations helped move people to temporary shelters, but in the end, over 90 people drowned.
In Poland, more then 1,280 cities, towns and villages were affected. The Polish government had trouble reacting to the flood. The crisis was so severe that the Polish Army, trained to help out during natural disasters, was called out only after the worst was over. And, as the Oder River was closing in on the city of Wroclaw, sand was delivered without any bags. Frantic children had to run door to door begging for pillowcases.
In Germany, 8,300 soldiers went to work pouring dirt into the river's walls. Volunteers from all over the country came to help. They worked all night to fortify the riverbank. Even so, some of the schools were so damaged that students have not been able to return this fall.