Cleaning house physically, emotionally, and mentally.

Posts tagged ‘Teton Dam’

Teton Dam Collapse – Part 3

This is the continuation of My Disaster Resume, Teton Dam Collapse – Part 1,  and Part 2.

We were truly among the fortunate because we had no property damage, no one we knew was hurt, although several friends lost their houses. Everyone seemed to be OK though. Now I wonder if they were really OK and my perception–as a 25-year old–was completely off base.

My one, inconsequential loss was a warped AeroSmith album. How minor; how trite to even mention it now compared to losses by others. Yet that was the reality of it at the time. For some reason, there was change in the air brought on by the dam collapse. Three friends, including one of my roommates at the time, and I started talking about leaving Idaho Falls.

Several weeks later, the four of us packed up our cars, started our own caravan, and headed to Portland, Oregon. The trip was full of challenges. At one point, the bikes on the bike rack on the back of my car became loose. It apparently was quite the sight for the car following me; bikes bouncing up and down and dipping and twisting. There were no cell phones or way to contact each other, so the driver had to pass me and get me to pull over.

We made it to Portland and stayed with the older sister of my roommate. I now think the move was just something that had to be done, a kind of irrelevant response to the “change.” I stayed in Portland for a month, then drove to Spokane to visit family. At that point, I had no idea what I was going to do. My old work place contacted me and asked me to come back. That was an easy decision as I still had everything backed in my car (including my dog) and no other prospects.

Back in Idaho Falls, I even moved back into the house where I used to live. Went back to the same old job. It was as if nothing changed at all, except a two month vacation.

I ended up moving into the rebuilt house that my friends had lived in. Great little house in the country. I could look out the kitchen window and see the Grand Teton.

Two years later I left Idaho Falls for good. The Teton Dam was long gone; they have never rebuilt it. There continues to be talk about rebuilding it, but still nothing. This is a picture of the what’s left of the site.

My life changed after I left Idaho Falls.  But that will have to be considered for future posts.

Teton Dam Collapse – Part 2

(You might want to read part 1 first.)

Idaho Falls after the flooding subsides.

After the flooding subsided, we took a look at the situation. We were extremely fortunate because there was minimal flooding in the immediate area. One house had several inches of water in their basement, another house had just a some damp spots, and our house (which was on a slight elevation) had no flooding at all. Basically we were in excellent shape!

With help from friends (and approval from local authorities), we moved our furniture and stuff back into the house. My dog was also allowed to come back into the fenced yard as soon as we decided there was not going to be a snake infestation due to the flooding.

Roadblock into the flood area.

The next day, a friend (Bill), who worked for the Idaho Water Resources department, contacted me. There was a huge need in the Rexburg area to test well water so people can get back to their homes. I just so happened to be knowledgeable in that area of water testing, so I called up my boss and asked for a couple of days off to help out. Of course, he said yes as he was one of those who would need their water tested.

Bill got all sorts of paperwork approved and told me where to go to catch a ride into the flood area. Security was fairly tight so if you didn’t have a residence or business in the area, you were not allowed in. We got into Rexburg (one of the hard-hit towns) and proceeded up to Ricks College. This was on a small hill, but the hill was high enough to not have any flood damage. A water testing van had been set up and with just a few minutes of paperwork training, we were open for business.

On the hill in Rexburg.

Many people would drive up the hill and stop at our van to drop off a bottle of their well water. More people came by and we would give them a sterile bottle with instructions on how to capture a sample of their well water. And during any little lull in that activity, we did the testing for coliform bacteria. This is considered indicator bacteria and suggests that contamination has made its way to the well. So the well must be disinfected until the test results are negative. Until that time, well water should be boiled before drinking or cooking.  Some people had already sanitized their well and were bringing samples to double-check that their water was safe to use.

A drive-in in Rexburg.

Although it was depressing to drive into the flood area and see so much damage, I was very surprised at the positive and optimistic attitude most people had.  There was a lot of “ we will survive this” and “this was god’s will.”  In case you didn’t know, Rexburg, Idaho Falls, and much of the other towns affected had a high percentage of Latter Day Saints (Mormon) population. Their acceptance of what happened and the resolve to just get back on track as soon as possible was astounding. At that time, there was a lot of talk about how the Church would take care of their own people and little government funding was used by those deeply affected. I don’t know if that statement is true, but from what I saw, it certainly seemed to be.

The stories from friends in the area were trickling in. One friend from Rexburg received notice in time to evacuate, but didn’t have enough time to grab much. He recalled putting the TV on the dining room table. When they were allowed to return to their house, it was no longer on its foundation (had moved about 100 yards down the street) and thus not very stable. But that TV was still sitting on the dining room table!

Bent railroad tracks due to the flood.

One of the strongest memories I have is of railroad tracks completely bent. It was something I just could not imagine. They should be straight or gone, not bent! This picture is not exactly what I saw, but provides a strong image.

Another friend had their house filled with flood water. They were out of town at the time of the flood and friends had managed to get a lot of their stuff out first. However, kitchen items, such as pots and pans, and flatware, was left in the house and thus, the flood. Several days later  they were able to get back into what was left of the house and try to save some of the kitchenware.  After attempting to wash the flatware in hot soapy bleachy water, dirt just kept oozing out of the flatware. After numerous washes, they gave up and threw the flatware away. Apparently the flooding and mud just soaked into the flatware. The house was pretty much totaled, so they moved on. Interestingly enough, about a year later, after the house was rebuilt, I moved into it!

Part 3 coming soon!

Teton Dam Collapse – Part 1

Continuing with my disaster resume, here’s my recollection of the 1976 Teton Dam collapse.

Teton Dam spillway (before collapse)

The Teton Dam was an earthen dam on the Teton River, just a few miles from Newdale, Idaho. The dam was started in 1972 and when done, filling began in October 1975.  A few days before the actual collapse on June, 5, 1976, a small leak appeared.  Authorities worked to stop this supposedly minor leak. But it just got larger and on June 5, the end was near. An incredible series of pictures is located here.

It was a beautiful day in Idaho Falls, Idaho. I shared a house, located on the banks of the Snake River in Idaho Falls,  with a couple of women. At that time, I was a quality control manager at a potato processing plant in Ririe, a tiny town about 20 miles northeast of Idaho Falls. One of my jobs was to pull sneak inspections, even on weekends. So that sunny morning, I drove to Ririe and did my thing.

Failure of the first half of the dam.

When I got home about noon, both ladies I roomed with were watching TV (the Muppet Show). All of a sudden, the show was interrupted with news of the Teton Dam collapse.  We were glued to the TV because we all had friends in the Rexburg area and wondered what it would all mean. Soon we found out that Rexburg was flooded and the water was going to come into the Snake River with gusto.

By that time, local officials had stopped by and recommended that we consider evacuation due to the potential flooding. So we contacted some friends and started quickly packing stuff. Mostly we loaded up furniture, including a piano. With the help of friends and the fact that we didn’t really have all that much stuff, we were packed up within a few hours.

After getting all that done, the waters had not yet hit the Snake River by us, so we decided to stay where we were and see what was going to happen. Several friends came by and we just hung out watching the river and listening to the news on the radio.

The flooded falls in Idaho Falls

Finally, very early on Sunday morning, things began to happen. We (I and friends) were sitting near the bank of the river just watching debris float by. The river was about 6-8 feet below me, so I wasn’t too worried. All of a sudden there was tremendous noise. We jumped up to see where it was coming from and then looked at the river. YIKES – it was rising incredibly fast; so fast that we scrambled to get away before it overtook us.

Yup, the river breached its bank by our house. Someone ran out to the main street (Yellowstone Highway) and flagged down a sand truck. They came into our area and dumped tons of sand, left us shovels and burlap bags. Guess you know what we did!

The area I lived in was just off the highway and there were only 3 houses back there. The owner of our house lived next door. The other people were out of town. We all sandbagged for hours to keep the water from getting to our houses.

I also had a dog (American Eskimo) who was in the fenced front yard. At one point, someone stopped by and was going to take the dog because they thought she was abandoned. Thankfully I saw them in time so my dog was safe. I then up a sign so it wouldn’t happen again. We were all quite busy sandbagging out back.

Although we successfully sandbagged to protect the homes, local authorities came by later that day and made us evacuate. They wer seriously considering having to blow up the bridge that was just upstream. A lot of debris was building up on the bridge and causing more flooding into the downtown area. By blowing up the debris dam (and part of the bridge), they could reduce the flooding upstream. Of course, blowing up everything would not be good for us.

Sandbagging in downtown Idaho Falls (photo by

We left the area and spent the night with friends. Up at the crack of dawn, we returned to find that they were able to break up the debris without blowing up the bridge. The sandbags held so we were all feeling thankful. And then those darn local authorities showed up again. Water was receding upstream and causing a second wave (pun intended) of flooding downstream. That was us.

Once again, we watched the water and soon noticed it rising again. But we were prepared this time. We were already on the route for sand delivery, so it was just deja vu–shovel sand into bags, give bag to someone else, deposit bag in the best place (where ever that would be at the time).

One more time, the sandbagging held back the flood waters.  Stay tuned for part 2.