37 Years Ago: Rochester’s Worst Flood Ever
It was 37 years ago (July 5th-6th 1978) that heavy thunderstorms moved through the Rochester area, dumping nearly 7 inches of rain in a period of less than 6 hours. That much rain in a short period of time caused the worst flood in Rochester's history.
Five people died in that flood, thousands of others were evacuated and the flood caused about $60 million worth of damage to homes and businesses. Clean up and recovery took several months. It also caused city, county and state officials to finally put together a plan for a permanent flood control project which Rochester residents passed with a half-cent sales tax to pay for it.
I grew up on the northwest side of Rochester near John Marshall high school. Outside of some basement flooding, most of that part of town was spared from major damage. Anything near the Zumbro River, including downtown and much of the southern half of the city was greatly affected.
I was just a young teen at the time. I knew we had heavy rain the night before, but I was oblivious to what happened until the next morning when I heard Harley Flathers talk about the flood on KROC-AM. Most of the other radio stations were off the air and KTTC-TV was off, too, because their building was seriously damaged by the flood. I'll never forget the horror of hearing that five people lost their lives during the flood. One lady had driven her car off a washed-out bridge during the night while four people perished when they were trapped inside a nursing home elevator and drowned.
I wanted to see some of the damage for myself, so I hopped on my bike and rode up to 3rd Ave NW near Crenlo to overlook Northbrook and the Silver Lake area from high above. It was like a scene out of a disaster movie. I remember seeing the Tempo store at Northbrook covered by water from the overflowing banks of the Zumbro River. Over the next few days there were many pictures and a lot of TV footage showing other landmarks underwater, including Apache Mall and a good chunk of downtown. It's a memory no one who lived here at the time will ever forget.
Thankfully since the flood control project was completed in the 1990s, Rochester should never again experience anything quite like 'The Great Flood of '78'.