People and Stories–Colorado State University Recovers from Flood (Number 4)

Sebastian Contreras Jr. is no stranger to floods–while studying for a bachelor’s degree in psychology at the University of Iowa in 1993, he found himself filling sandbags and helping other residents recover from floods that affected a wide swath of the Mississippi River. Fortunately, he didn’t experience any losses himself.

But the flash floods that hit July 28 at Colorado State affected him much differently. Contreras, a native of Illinois who now is a master’s degree candidate in student affairs in higher education, suddenly became homeless when flood waters inundated his apartment at International House west of campus. He found a temporary place to stay and he managed to salvage furniture and other belongings, but he gave up his car for lost, a 1996 Honda Civic that was carried away by high water.

On the evening of the flood, about 150 International House residents evacuated the building and gathered on a grassy knoll on the northeast side of the complex while the rain poured down.

"When the rain stopped, I went back to the apartment to see what was damaged, but I noticed my car wasn’t where I parked it last," Contreras said. "It had drifted a thousand feet and got stuck between two other cars.

"It was the first car I owned. I had it a year, drove it out from Illinois. You could say it represented the longest relationship I’ve ever had."

In addition to the loss of his car, Contreras said he wasn’t able to work because his graduate assistantship was located in the Lory Student Center, which was without power after being hit especially hard from the flood. But he remained upbeat, and planned to graduate as scheduled in May 1998.

"I have no complaints about Fort Collins at all," he said. "The response to the flood has been wonderful–people have been very supportive, asking if I need any help and lending a hand.

"I was thinking about moving to California after I graduate, but I guess I’d better stay out of areas prone to earthquakes," he said.

SoYon Bueno, who holds a graduate assistantship position as manager of Lory Apartments and International House, lost her car and personal possessions to the flood, but what she remembers most is an evening of chaos and concern over the safety of residents in the complex.

"People were telling me water was coming into their apartments, and before I knew it we had a foot of water," she said. "We tried calling 911, but the phone lines were down. The fire alarms were going off and the water just kept getting deeper, so we went knocking on doors to tell people to evacuate.

"We got everybody out, and in minutes, it seemed, we had 3 or 4 feet of water in the bottom apartments."

One man, though, couldn’t be accounted for. For a few hours, Hans Petersen, a wheelchair user, was missing.

"We were so worried he was trapped inside," Bueno said. "Several people waded back into the building and felt around in the water to see if they could find him, but he wasn’t there."

One resident, Ridvan Uctuk, a 6-foot, 4-inch graduate student in animal sciences, waded through waist-deep water to try locating Petersen, but without success.

Finally, around midnight, Petersen was located. He had evacuated the building earlier that evening and was safe.

A week after the flood, Bueno, who is working toward a degree in student affairs in higher education, said recovery efforts at the complex were progressing rapidly.

"Some of our residents got out with just the clothes they were wearing, so there is definitely a need for help, but I think we’ve had great support from the community. Things are moving quickly, crews are ripping out drywall, and we’re looking forward to getting back to normal as soon as we can."