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This week in 1921: The flood that nearly sank Pueblo

Drenching rains flooded the entire town of Pueblo in 1921, carrying 600 homes downstream.
South Santa Fe Avenue under water, Pueblo, 1921.

ID=9870675PUEBLO – More than 300 square miles lay covered in floodwater and as many as 1,500 townspeople were reported dead.

That was the scene in Pueblo nearly a century ago, after downpours threatened to drown the town in 1921.

Ninety-three years ago this week, beginning the afternoon of June 3, 1921, a cloudburst opened up over the southern Colorado town, sparing no part of the community where the heart of the Arkansas River meets Fountain creek.

According to NOAA, more than a half inch of rain can fall in just minutes during a cloudburst.

The Denver Weather Bureau reported more than six inches fell from the skies that week in 1921, drenching Pueblo from June 3 to June 5.

There was no official Weather Bureau in 1921, and much of the rainfall was measured by townspeople in tubs or buckets, damage marked by waterlines on structures.

The rain was awful; the damage after floodwater receded was worse.

Six-hundred homes were carried away, according to NOAA and historic records, causing what would equate to more than $300 million in damage in today's standards.

Before receding, The Arkansas River and Fountain Creek had reached over 15 feet in some areas.

It took just two hours before the entire business district was under ten feet of water. The lumberyard caught fire, sending flaming timber down city streets, carried by rapid flood waters.

Freight train cars were crushed. Many of the victims of the flood were never recovered, carried miles downstream.

According to NOAA, "The entire Arkansas Valley, from 30 miles west of Pueblo to the Colorado–Kansas state line, was severely impacted. Hundreds of people died, with some death toll estimates as high as 1,500. The flood destroyed almost all of the downtown Pueblo area and decimated the city."

Federal authorities arrived to restore law and order to the flood-ravaged town. 3,000 refugees took shelter in tent camps as the Red Cross, Salvation Army, and Knights of Columbus came to the town's aid.

Despite the damage, just three years later the community of Pueblo was back up and running.

Additional information on the 1921 Pueblo, Colorado, flood can be found here: http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/news/month-climate-history-june-3-1921-colorado-flooding.

For the Department of Interior's full report on the flood, visit: http://pubs.usgs.gov/wsp/0487/report.pdf

For more photos, visit the Pueblo City County Library Digital Photo Collection.

(KUSA-TV © 2014 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)