40 Years Since Devastating Flood Changed Rochester Forever
Rochester, MN (KROC-AM News) - July 5th will mark the 40th anniversary of a seminal moment in the history of Rochester, Minnesota.
Beginning the evening of July 5th, 1978, torrential rains hit the region and the city was hit by a massive flood that covered about a third of Rochester with water and killed 5 people. Four of the deaths occurred at a Rochester nursing home, where the patients were in an elevator that descended into the building’s flooded basement. The fifth involved a woman whose vehicle left a roadway during the flooding. Around 5,000 residents were evacuated from their homes and the damage was estimated at $60 million. Adjusted for inflation, that would be almost $240 million today.
The Zumbro River had a long history of leaving its banks and flooding the city, but the 1978 flood was the worst and resulted in an aggressive push by city leaders to win federal funding for a comprehensive flood control project that was built in the 1980’s and cleared the way for the community’s rapid growth over the past several decades. Without the reservoirs that now surround Rochester and the channel designed to contain the Zumbro when it’s running high, much of the land that is now home to numerous businesses and housing developments would still be unusable because of its proximity to the river and its tributaries.
The city faced an uphill fight in gaining federal funds to protect Rochester. At that time, Congress had lost its appetite for funding costly flood control projects but Rochester Mayor Chuck Hazama and other city leaders prevailed by pushing what was then a novel idea, having the community shoulder a sizeable share of the cost. After winning approval from the state legislature and local voters for a local sales tax, Rochester was able to pledge to Congress that it would pay for 25-percent of the flood control project. It marked the first time the now common cost-sharing arrangement had been utilized on a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project.
The Rochester Public Library will be hosting a free presentation about the flood on July 21st at 10:30 a.m. Free copies of the book “Flood of Memories” will be distributed to those who attend. It was written in 2004 as part of the 25th anniversary of the disaster and provides readers with first-hand accounts from Rochester residents and dozens of photos.
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