The Savage Rain
| When the droplets in the clouds collide, they become too big and heavy, they fall to earth again as rain.
Four thousand million years before man, the first rain fell, and still it falls, the same water endlessly rising as the invisible water vapour and falling again as rain, neither more or less, day after day since time began.
This rain tumbling in the Amazon today might once have flowed through Imperial Rome, or slaked the thirst of a dinosaur.
Rain, falling every day all over the planet. Each raindrop formed like a pearl around a speck of airborne dirt. A grain of sea salt. So that rain as it falls cleans the skies.
Moisture sucked up by the Sun and falling again as rain. The essential cycle of life on Earth, but when thunderclouds burst, quite incredible quantities of water can fall. In less than hour of torrential rain a quiet river can turn into a flash flood, the weather's biggest killer.
Yesterday Lynmouth was a peaceful holiday resort. Today it is a ruin.
In August 1952 a flash flood swept away the heart of this Devon village. 3 Months worth of rain had fallen in a single day. As dusk fell a wall of water 40 feet high roared down through the village, hurling trees with the force of battering rams.
On a sunny summer afternoon it's hard to imagine that Lynmouth could ever be threatened by its 2 picturesque rivers. In 1952, it was packed with visitors as it is today. There was almost nothing to prepare them for what was to come.
I thought it was quite an eerie experience. It was a gun-powdery color of sky you know. It was something that made you feel you had to go home.
Suddenly a wall of water came down, colossal amount of water, it made the ground tremble as the rocks thundered down the river.
We rushed outside the shop, as we got outside, we were washed onto these railings with this wave of water, which was, came down waist deep.
You could hear the rocks rolling all round and people calling out screaming you could hear their houses crashing you know.
Repeated flashes of lightning lit up the scene and in a flash of lightning. You could see that there were different colored layers of vapour above the water, ranging from dark brown near the water up to a light yellow and beyond above and there was a strong smell, not an unpleasant smell one of wet earth rather than slimy mud, you know.
I was then in the mainstream of the water. The telephone kiosk along side me went over as well. And it floated with the air still inside it so I grabbed hold of the telephone kiosk and went down the road with the telephone kiosk. And as I got near...back towards where my wife was hanging onto these railings, I was calling out to her.
I saw a deep freeze floating by and I heard Norman calling me. And I put out my hand where the voice came from, and he grabbed it.
She virtually saved my life really.
More water flowed down through Lynmouth that night than normally flows down the Thames in 3 months. Above the tremendous din, you could even hear the screams of one family in particular, whole family went with the house.
We'd look out the window and all of a sudden we'd see these shafts of lights, beams going up into the air and then sort of go murky and go out. It was a car that was being washed away and it was where the lights, the water made the contact for the lights, for a short while and the headlights came on and then eventually.
34 People died that night. The youngest is a baby just 13 weeks old. Flash floods are so destructive because rain is so heavy. Floodwater flowing at 20 miles per hour is not 4 but 16 times more powerful than water flowing at 5 miles per hour. Flash floods kill 100's every year. Half of them in cars they think will save them. Just 2 ft of water can rip a car from the road and send it swirling away.
Flash floods hit without warning. For thunderclouds can made huge quantities of rain in a terrifyingly short time. One hot July Saturday in 1976, these clouds grew to twice the height of normal clouds in less than 1 hour. Then they dropped 10 inches of rain on the Big Thompson River basin in Colorado. Downstream it wasn't even raining. Even in winter, the Big Thompson is only a trickle. But within its ice is locked a 20 year memory of a community and its sense of disbelief.
The Sheriff had called me and said, "we have had reports that the Big Thompson River, they had some flooding up above." And that kind of surprised me because I told him we were just at the river and it's at its normal level, it's 6 inches deep and crystal clear. So I got my flashlight and walked over to the edge of the river and looked down at this little creek and all I saw was a torrent of water. It looked like the waves crashing in the ocean, they were just huge and there were these propane tanks and they were just like they were corks, flipping down the river. They would whistle, and sing and gurgle when they were going underneath the water, and all this was washing up and it was washing up against that part of the mountain there too and slamming back up like a big wave coming back.
It wasn't water, it was like boiling lava. A car would appear in a bubble, come up to the surface with the lights on. You would see people waving and flashing lights and windows rolled down and screaming for help and then the car would disappear in the next roll of water.
The Nicholson family lived here. Barbara and Howard and 5 young children. Howard took 10 year old Chris to help an elderly neighbour Mrs. Bailey.
This is how forceful the water was. Her dress, there was almost nothing left of her dress and so I remember going up to her and trying to pull down what little was left of her dress and this is what, is just really weird because it's like. I turned and turned back and they were gone, they were gone.
Their neighbours, the Grahams only realized something was wrong when they saw a bridge come crashing past their house on a wave of water. They hurried to get their 2 little girls to safety, away from the river.
As we were going out the back door, another tremendous surge of water came by, it's the surge that carried away my wife and daughters, I barely made it to the house and I could no longer see any of my family. I saw some boulders the size of trucks rolling in the water end over end and there was no stopping them. I mean they just continued to roll. Pieces of house vehicles, cars and pick-ups, travel trailers washing by. Some of the cars still had their lights on. One or two of them I saw people in them trying to ride it out, but they were being tumbled about in these surges.
As the Sun rose the following morning, the people of the canyon say what the rain had done. 418 Homes had been completely destroyed. 52 Businesses had been wiped out. 35 1/2 Million dollars worth of damage had been done.
As the days went by 139 bodies were pulled from the wreckage. The flood had treated them cruelly. Many were so badly battered they were unrecognizable. Among the dead, Bob Graham's wife and his 2 years old daughter Lisa. And of his 9 years old daughter Theresa, no trace has ever been found.