People and Stories–Colorado State University Recovers from Flood (Number 2)

Nine days after the July 28 flood in Fort Collins, Martha Blood, director of the Lory Student Center, draws herself up to her full 5-foot height and surveys the flood damage in a lower level of the student center known as the Cave. Her brown eyes aren’t visible in the gloom, but her voice is clear and steady as she shines a flashlight beam around, catching traces of the high-water mark a few inches from the ceiling, a pile of mysterious rubble in a dank corner, a Pepsi machine that had smashed through a wall of the Office of Community Services.

"The water was angry when it burst into the building," she says, pointing the flashlight toward the west doors. "It moved with tremendous force, and churned like a blender in every direction, blowing into the game room and back out, into the Ramskeller, the theater, into all the mechanical systems and the bookstore, north, south, east and every direction in between.

"This is absolutely the worse situation I’ve experienced. When I first saw the lower level of the student center, my knees buckled. I said, ‘It’s gone.’ "

Blood watches as workers trundle past, wheelbarrows loaded with sodden remnants of people’s lives. A man shuffles past, arms straining with the weight of a load, but still he pauses to exchange light-hearted banter with Blood before trooping off to dump the refuse.

A sense of humor helps, she says, and remembers two carp that were caught, one in the bookstore and another in the bowling alley. One was caught and returned to the Lagoon, but she isn’t sure what happened to the other fish. Somebody’s dinner, maybe.

Some stories have a happy ending, too, like a student’s master’s thesis that Mike Sullivan rescued out of a locker on the flooded lower floor. Sullivan, associate director for operations at the student center, saved the only copy the student had.

But around the next corner is a steel door that once had been encased in a steel and concrete frame. The door is bent outward and hanging by one set of hinges, buckled like tin foil, and large sections of the concrete frame are missing.

"We’re a can-do people as a staff, and we’re moving in a very positive direction," she says. "As long as we can see movement, as long as we can see progress, I think that will keep morale high."

Although Blood has been at Colorado State only two years, she’s been in the student center business for 27 years, and she’s seen the strength of human will during disasters. She knows the process of recovery is difficult physically and emotionally, but she considers her staff more unified than ever to work toward complete recovery.

"This student center is about people," she says, walking through a hallway on the dry, undamaged first floor near the information booth. She steps carefully over a clear plastic tube that snakes down the length of the hall, bringing in fresh air from outside.

"The people of the Lory Student Center did everything they could to try saving the building, from the beginning of the flood to the end. When we look back, we’ll never forget what happened here.

"The folks who work here, including those who will help us rebuild, are the heroes and always will be."

The wall of water that smashed through the west doors of the Lory Student Center almost caught several workers by surprise. In the early evening on July 28, workers were trying to mop up what they thought were a series of irritating leaks in the building caused by normal rainstorms.

"We had six staff people, three full-time and three student staff, who were in the game room area," said Martha Blood, Lory Student Center director. "We were expecting about 3,500 youth from a summer conference, but fortunately they canceled because of the heavy rain."

After conference officials called off activities at the student center, staff members stayed and mopped up water in and around the game room area. At first, they couldn’t see the water rising on the west doors of the building because it was dark outside.

"At 8 p.m., we were mopping up water coming in," said Connie Lane, manager of what was formerly known as the game room. "It didn’t seem like an unusual storm, but we thought maybe the building had structural problems, because water was seeping in through the walls.

"We got a shop vac out, and we were emptying it for a third time when we saw the water blowing through the bottom panels of the doors. The hallway filled instantly with 3-1/2 or 4 feet of water. We got out of there."

But on the way out, a staff member thought there might be other people in the building, so they made their way through rapidly rising water to make sure everybody was accounted for. Several people, in fact, were led safely out of the building.

"It was unbelievable, how fast the building flooded," Lane said.

Brian Hailey, student staff member, was outside the west doors of the Lory Student Center, standing in the pounding rain, trying to shovel water away with a snow shovel, when he got the eerie feeling he was fighting a losing battle.

"I thought I was getting ahead when I noticed a cardboard box floating past," he said. "Then I saw a 2-by-4 float past, and I started wondering what was going on. When I saw a big trash can floating past, I knew something serious was going on."

Hailey, a civil engineering student who, coincidentally, is interested in hydrology, said he could hear glass smashing inside the building, but he felt helpless to do anything more to prevent damage to the building.