By Jeff Stahla


Residents of Loveland, Colo., know too well the power of water.

In July 1976, the state’s most deadly natural disaster claimed 144 lives when a wall of water swept down the Big Thompson Canyon west of the city in an afternoon’s time.

In September, the disaster occurred in slow motion. Instead of a thunderstorm producing a flash flood, a larger system stalled over the mountains of Northern Colorado, turning rivers into chisels that scraped away homes, fields and roads — in some cases, to bedrock. Because the river rose so slowly, only two lives were lost; however, more than 1,000 residents were stranded because roads and bridges were swept away.

For two weeks, the staff at the Loveland Reporter-Herald did what any journalist would do in the face of such an emergency: Tell the stories of those affected by the flood and inform the rest of the community what to expect and how to help. Our Web presence was key because delivery routes were severed.

On Sept. 29, however, we pivoted briefly away from the first draft of history to what I would call the second draft.

In a special, keepsake section, the staff put into context what had been presented online and in a dozen print editions in the previous weeks.

Key to the effort was a comprehensive timeline, gathered from many Twitter feeds, firsthand accounts and, when needed, official sources. However, the section also brought together the best photography and storytelling from staff — as well as a portion where community members could tell their stories.

The ad-supported section was so successful that the edition has sold out — with requests coming in daily for more.

In the years and decades to come, we know that our efforts will be the source material for how our community passes on the story of the 2013 Front Range flood.