Fort Collins families, firefighters commemorate 20th anniversary of fatal flash flooding

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FORT COLLINS, Colo. -- Families and first responders gathered Friday evening to commemorate the 20th anniversary of a flash flood that killed five people and injured dozens others in Fort Collins.

Nearly 15 inches of rain fell in 30 hours in Fort Collins and Spring Creek rose quickly to dangerous levels.

A strip mall exploded, a train derailed, and trailer homes were swept up and carried down stream.

"Chaos. It was a lot of chaos," Poudre Fire chief Tom DeMint said. "There were people being swept away right in front of our eyes. It was chaos. And our challenge was to bring some sort of order to that chaos."

Families of those who lost their lives met with first responders and city leaders at the park Friday where the flood water peaked 20 years ago.

Bratt De Los Santos lost his mother Estefana Guarneros that night.

"I tell everyone when they lose a loved one, it will get easier. I want to say that, but you just never forget," De Los Santos said.

Angela Gonzalez and her family also attended the memorial service. She lost her grandmother Sarah Payne that night.

"We didn't know where my grandma Sarah was for a long time. They couldn't find her," Gonzalez said. "She didn't know how to swim so that was really awful."

As Friday afternoon's rain soaked attendees at the service, Gonzalez saw it as a sign.

"I think it made the service even more beautiful. I feel like their presence is here. The rainbows, the rain. It's beautiful," Gonzalez said.

DeMint said from the tragedy came better flood mitigation and a stronger community. DeMint said the rainbow that appeared over the memorial service exemplified the progress made since the flood.

"The rainbow, the rain gave it that sense that we are good. We're done good work and we are going to be resilient," DeMint said.