Smiling Through the Catastrophe, 1976

After I posted about the 1966 Fondren flood a little while ago, from deep in alumni storage boxes (or hard drives, more likely) up bubbled pictures of something I’d never seen before: the flood in the RMC a decade later. (Do you sense a theme developing here?) This is Tina Garfield, who was manager of the Pub that year, at the microphone in the KTRU studio:

That’s quite a photograph. I’m astonished at the amount of water in there and also frankly at the fact that she looks like a million dollars, just chipper as all get out. She promises more, so stay tuned.

As if on cue, we received a box of papers last week that contained among other things a file of cost estimates for repairing and replacing what had been lost in this flood. After looking at this picture I feel safe in saying that those estimates were prepared by cockeyed optimists.

Reminder: If you’ve got something fun to share, send it to me and I’ll put it up.

Bonus: I climbed to the top of the stadium again to get a good look at the construction of the tennis complex–just enough time had passed for me to forget that I hate it up there.



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20 Responses to Smiling Through the Catastrophe, 1976

  1. Is there still a white line painted around one of the pillars in Willy’s? That is the high-water mark from that flood.

  2. There is probably still a bathtub ring in the machine room and the tunnel. One thing the photo does not convey is the stink of rotting wet paper. The basement smelled like Champion Paper for weeks. Thanks for this post Melissa!

    • As for the cockeyed optimists, I believe that was “Housing and Urban Development” that came up with those. I had a copy of the part of the estimate that dealt with KTRU for years, but I think it got tossed in a move about a decade ago. I remember a lot of stuff got written up in the steam tunnels that was already pretty beat up before the flood, so all in all, it probably evened out for the university as a whole. It was rough on KTRU though.

  3. Those were fun times, though I do look a little wet behind the ears …. Or is that wet behind the years? Approriately timed, Melissa,as I am on safari with Traveling Owls. Will get the rest of the photos to you soon, including the re- opening party (dear readers, you have been warned!)

  4. joni says:

    Jeez! I hope the power was turned off in that picture!

    • Melissa Kean says:

      That was my very first thought. It’s probably not possible that a student would be allowed anywhere near a flooded basement today. Think of the potential liability!

      • The microphone was actually in the water, she had to lift it out for the phote.

        The power was out. The main transformer for the RMC was in the basement. The Rice phone system did not have battery backup and was out. While the water was rising in the basement, someone ran to facilities to get them to to turn off the power at their end. The water reached the power terminals before that could happen. Now there is a brick bulge on the back of the RMC with the new transformer.

      • Hi Melissa,

        I think the main reason in this instance students were in the basement was that other than the Campus Store and Sammy’s bathrooms, everything down there was a student run organization. The Pub, KTRU and the MOB were all pretty much student managed on a day-to-day basis. Other than Campus Store/RMC manager Bill Red and and MOB Director Bert Roth, it was pretty much us “kids” operating those areas, including a lot of the remodeling and maintenance. Both Mr. Red and Mr. Roth are Rice staffers worth profiling by the way. They contributed a great deal to many students’ experiences at Rice.

  5. mattnoall says:

    That was probably the worst flood during my 18 years in Houston. I was working at St Luke’s Hospital that summer and was actually unable to get out of the Medical Center. The previous year’s summer flood was bad but it took us about 6 hours to go the 6-8 miles to home so we agreed that if it flooded again it was probably better to shelter in place. Good choice for that flood as I was very busy. The water got into the hospital basement where the prime power distribution transformers were located. The flood took out the HL&P power to the building but the back up generators took over just fine…until the transformers blew in the basement. As usual the place was full of cardiac patients and lots of them had to be moved from the ICU’s that lost power to ones that had power if they were on devices such as respirators or pumps. The patients who were less critical could stay but still had to be moved from the normal monitors to the available battery powered ones. I ran around that hospital delivering those and other needed instruments all night. My group ended up sleeping on gurneys just outside the CV pod in the OR for what was left of the night. The nurses were amazing. None of the patients died that night. I am not sure there was even an arrest the whole night. The hospital ended up paying all the staff OT for all that work.

    When I got back into the Pub that white line always reminded me of all that

    There were lots of stories about that flood. It could be interesting and maybe instructive to collect them

    Thanks for the reminder. I remember that front page picture in the Trasher

    • Richard Miller (Hanszen '75 & '76) says:

      And the Medical Center made improvements to try to prevent future floods. They installed berms and floodgates and it appeared to work well for the 1977 flood. Several institutions did not choose to move their electrical switch gear out of the basement (it was a calculated risk, spend millions of dollars to mitigate an ‘unlikely’ event or spend the money to improve other services). Allison did an even bigger job and flooded many of the institutions. St Lukes took minimal damage because they closed their submarine doors but Methodist, Hermann and BCM (among others) took major hits when the basements were flooded. I was at BCM during the event and had the fun of resucing several dogs from the vivarium. These were not small dogs but 80-100 pounds and not happy. We got them up the stairs and put them into the VP of Research’s new conference room. The first few were easy to put in but eventually it was very hard since the previous tenants really wanted out while we were sutffing another dog in. Someone put a cow into the woman’s bathroom. Loss/mitigation was in the billions

    • I remember the Medical Center was asking on the radio for portable generators, and I remember a discussion that night about someone from Buildings and Grounds was going to take one of Rice’s generators over there in a biology department aluminum boat, but I don’t know if that ever happened.

  6. Jeff Ross says:

    This flood also caused what I think was the only rainout baseball game at the Astrodome. I had tickets but couldn’t get there. I think the Astros hosted a buffet on the field for the fans who showed.

    • Kathy says:

      You’re right, Jeff. Great answer to a baseball trivia stumper question!

      I remember having to wade through thigh-deep water on University to get to my boyfriend’s apartment.

  7. How much do you know about the RMC during that flood? Here is what I heard.

    It rained fast enough that the water got deep on the RMC roof. The roof has a short brick wall all around, and the drains just could not get rid of enough water. A vent from a basement room was shorter than the wall, so water poured into that room from the roof. This room was on the other side of the wall at the far end of Willy’s (facing the doors). When the water was six feet deep, the wall failed and water filled the whole basement. The huge gold Rice trophy case was against that wall. Amazingly, it did not fall over, but was pushed several feet.

    Hydraulic fluid from the elevator shaft floated out and coated the steps, making them treacherous. Someone broke an arm on those. Plastic bowls from behind the bar at the pub were floating on the surface of the water, very odd looking. KTRU was flooded, but did not get much hydraulic fluid because all the water went under the bottom of the door, keeping out stuff that floated. The KTRU carpet was covered with a thin layer of paper mache, because all the phone books dissolved. The paper sleeves on the albums swelled and the shelves had to be disassembled to get them out. The albums all had to be replaced. We tried to clean them, but paper jammed into the grooves could not be completely cleaned out.

    Other people can probably fill in names.

    • I recall that most of the water came into the machine room from a grate topped pit in Sammy’s Loading dock (that was intended to give access to the machine room for loading large equipment). The first warning anyone had of the problem was when KTRU started getting noise on the telephone pairs that went from the studios to the transmitter, which was tracked to water running over the telephone terminal in the machine room. Chris Reed told me that he had tried putting a couple of flat wooden risers on the grate to slow the water, and had jammed some towels I think around the machine room door to try to keep the water in there, but as Walter noted, the wall eventually collapsed. I was Manager of KTRU then, but was working up in Austin that summer. I got the word of the flooding in early afternoon, and drove down to Houston right away, getting to the Village area before dark. Many streets were still flooded and I just pushed my floating VW beetle to the far side and would get back in and drive some more. I actually got to the stadium parking lot that way, but then had to wade through pretty deep water to get to the RMC. One of the first folks I encountered was Tina, who had rescued a keg of beer that was still sort of cold and a tap and was providing same to folks who were stranded. She was set up by the payphone, which was the only phone “working” on that part of the campus, but only for incoming calls. So if anyone called in, there was always a group standing there with numbers to give the caller to pass the word on to others, who would then call in, etc. I seem to remember that the cylinder on the elevator required quite a bit of remedial work due to water getting in it…it was quite some time before it was back in service, which made getting the much out of the basement even more fun.

  8. I was in the pub when the wall gave way. The trophy case that normally required the football team to move, was on that wall and chased us across the room and we ran for the stairs just ahead of it. I guess I need to hurry home and get those pictures to Melissa!

  9. All of the Campus Store inventory of books and supplies were in the basement. There was a huge pile of wet books out in the loading dock parking area afterward. Several students helped Mr. Red retrieve books from upper shelves that the water had not reached and move them upstairs, but it was tough maneuvering through the wet books on the floor. I recall some of the shelving was threatening to collapse, so we were hurrying to get books out before we had time to clear the floors.

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