By July and August, the 30-foot-wide Big Thompson River flows quietly in its rocky bed. Here and there along it, the trout fisherman has trouble finding enough water into which to cast his fly. On this weekend of the Colorado Centennial, hundreds of picnickers, sightseers, and campers find their ways up and down the narrow, picturesque, quiet canyon. Children play in the stream, jumping excitedly from rock to rock, occasionally slipping a foot into the icy cold water. By now, young people “tubing” this river must walk hundreds of yards to find enough water for their sport. Gone is the swiftness of the springtime Rocky Mountain stream; and this is not surprising for every summer, as the snow disappears from the mighty peaks, the river dwindles to almost nothing.
As late afternoon approaches, the usual frequent mountain showers begin to fall, lightly in some places, more heavily in others. Picnickers along that gentle stream seek temporary refuge in cars or shelter-houses to wait out the brief lull in their happy activities. Campers go inside, visitors begin the long winding ride down the canyon. Nothing seems unusual on this ordinary summer afternoon. People in Loveland wonder at the strong east wind blowing. And as evening draws near, the foothills are lost in the misty rain that falls to the west, though it never approaches the plains. To the north of Estes Park the higher mountains are getting drenched with 12-18 inches of rain. Three elk scouters pitch tent in that slipperiness rather than head for the truck and horse trailer that would take them through the canyon and home. Picnickers pick up their gear and head through the Narrows as darkness falls.
By Sunday morning, as daylight breaks over that once gentle canyon, a scene of mass confusion reigns. Gone is the trout stream and its stepping stones. Shelter-houses. cottages, homes, businesses, dams, power plants, campers, trailers, cars, and people which yesterday were there are no more. It slowly dawns in the minds of people that tremendous disaster has struck. Estes Park and Loveland are now disaster centers, stations for the helicopter pilots flying in disbelief over the devastated area, picking up close to 900 survivors the first day. Organized groups of deputies hike into the once beautiful area marking bodies and helping survivors out of the canyon on foot. The elk scouters determine unknowingly to truck out and down the road along the river. The picnickers pause to reflect that they had left their fun and games only a half hour before the dreadful rush of water came through. Beautiful US 34 in many places is gone, peeled back by the force of the water. Scores of unrecognizable hulks of twisted, mud-filled steel is all that remains of the automobiles which had been in that canyon. The nine foot diameter siphon high over the highway at the mouth of the Narrows lies crumpled up against a house. Area residents, in a state of shock, listen to radio reports of carnage beyond belief, of anguished survivors who watched their families disappear into the wild 20-30 foot wall of water, of desperate relatives waiting to know if loved ones would let them know of their safety. Discussions carry on of the “100 year flood,” the heavy rainfall that fell by chance in a certain area, Mother Nature’s strange quirks.
A few older people recognize the fact that it was only with God’s help that they could manage to climb the cliff behind their home to escape the water. One family exclaims over the fact that their family Bible remained in a clean spot on a table in the living room, while the rest of the house was literally destroyed. One young man acknowledges that he learned “something never to be forgotten” as he listened to the screams of a friend, pinned against a tree in midstream before being swept away to his death. God was there! “God’s hand swept down that canyon,” a minister exclaims. God spoke in that flood; this is a fact that was accepted by but a few in the weeks that followed. The three elk scouters, air-lifted out twenty-four hours later gave thanks to God for their rescue as did the picnickers who traveled out just ahead of that wall of death.
God speaks every day to all of us. How terrible when we fail to acknowledge this, when we fail to hear Him. It takes something of the magnitude of the Big Thompson flood to drive the fact home, and that to only a few. It makes us, the people of God, stop and pause before going on in our daily way.
God also speaks to us when He takes from us a loved one or when we see a young friend in a hospital room critically injured in an automobile accident. God speaks to us through experiences of others, and when He does, we sometimes shrug it off and think that such a thing could not happen to us. Or we try to say to each other that “the world had better take notice now, for God has sent judgment on the wicked.”
We try to separate ourselves from tragedy and heartbreak because we fear these things, and then only because they may affect us. But the fact is, God’s people, too, are killed in tornadoes and floods. Young friends of ours die violent deaths, often called by us “premature” deaths. We must see that God speaks to us in these things. We behold with the Psalmist “what desolation He hath made in the earth. Psalm 46:8.” We in Loveland saw literally “how the earth was removed,” and how the “waters roared and were troubled. Psalm 46:2, 3.” We were reminded of Psalm 144:7 where God’s Word speaks to us, “Tremble, thou earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob…” How wondrous are the ways of Almighty God, and his ways past finding out. This must be our response. And further, we must heed the Word of God in Psalm 46:10 where we are told, “Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen. I will be exalted in the earth.” Although the wicked fail to heed to His voice, and refuse to see God as the ever present God, we must know that God speaks to us each day, sometimes through what we call trouble.
But we have a refuge, “a very present help in trouble.” “Therefore,” the Psalmist continues in Psalm 46:2, “will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea…” Three times in Psalm 46 we are assured that “the Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.” In the middle of trouble, “natural” catastrophes, wars, and revolution — God is our refuge. We can be assured of this, and say with David that “The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear Him, and delivereth them. Psalm 34:7.” We look to God then, and say each day, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done,” concerning us and our loved ones too.