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Remembering Big Thompson flood, 39 years later

Friday marks 39 years since a violent rainstorm caused one of the deadliest flash floods to occur in the United States.
1976 big Thompson flood

DRAKE - Friday marks 39 years since a violent rainstorm sent torrents of water through Thompson Canyon, causing one of the deadliest flash floods to occur in the United States

It started on the evening of July 31 – the eve of Colorado's centennial anniversary -- when a complex system of thunderstorms brought heavy rain to the Front Range foothills of the big Thompson River and Cache la Poudre River Basins.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the storm released as much as 12 inches of rain in just a few hours.

The USGS said such a large amount of rainfall in a short amount of time on steep mountain terrain with thin or no soil caused a flash flood that took residents by surprise.

It was the height of Colorado's tourist season, and an estimated 3,500 people were enjoying themselves in the scenic Big Thompson River Valley before the storm hit, unaware of impending catastrophic flood conditions.

The flood claimed the lives of about 144 people, including two law enforcement officers who were trying to evacuate residents in danger. The USGS reported 250 injuries as well.

It is considered one of the deadliest flash floods in Colorado's recorded history.

The flood also caused over $35 million in damages to 418 homes and businesses, 438 automobiles, bridges, paved and unpaved roads, mobile homes, power lines and other structures.

The USGS said the most destructive components of the flood were the sudden rise in river depths, the extremely high floodwater velocities and maximum flood depths.

President Gerald Ford declared Larimer County a disaster area, and a handful of the victims were never found.

(© 2015 KUSA)

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