Foreign aid

After the Flood

Voices from the Future | Lisa Trank

After the Flood

The Event: In 2013, a deluge caused massive floods in Colorado’s Southern Rockies. As rivers and creeks swelled across the state’s 24 counties, roads, bridges and houses were washed away. Ten residents lost their lives, and property damages were estimated at $4 billion dollars, the largest amount in the state’s history.

Lisa Trank is a writer, educator, environmentalist and longtime resident of Longmont, Colorado. During the 2013 floods there, she found herself in a surprising role as part of an emergency response team.

Trank, a communications director in a small private university at the time, was trapped in her house with her husband, three children and an elderly mother during the floods. City and National Guard officials had prohibited Longmont residents from being on the streets as the rivers and creeks swelled in the area.

“The floods had destroyed our roadways, and our city was separated in two,” Trank says, noting that all of Boulder County was affected.

“I was able to update weather and emergency conditions on the school website and communicate between the faculty, staff and students and their families from my house, since we still had electricity,” she says. “I also used Twitter to communicate with media.

“Frankly, I don’t even believe that it — the rain and floods lasted 10 days — really hit me until it was all done because I had to be in this responsive role. I couldn’t allow it really to affect me. I also had to keep my children busy and make sure they weren’t too worried. I got really sick with bronchitis after it was all over.”

Ultimately, the destruction was overwhelming.

“They call it the 500-year flood,” Trank says. “I have never seen anything like this before. I totally believe that climate change was a contributing factor for the severity of the floods.”

Trank has a history of being environmentally conscious. She tends her own kitchen garden. She shops at thrift stores and recycles clothes. She composts food waste. Still, she feels that her family and community must do even more to minimize the impact of the climate crisis on the planet.

“We are living in a time that our family and community view as being an extreme climate emergency,” she says. “We expect weather incidents like ours to become even more frequent either in our area or somewhere else.”

Having lived through the 2013 floods, Trank’s three children, who were 13 and 11 at the time, were changed for good from the experience.

“My children learned from very early age what it means to support and help other people in need,” Trank says. “My oldest daughter is in college, and the twins are seniors at high school, and they are very environmentally aware. They prepare winter survival kits for the homeless. As a family, we do less shopping and try to buy even more clothes at thrift stores. We recycle and we have reduced the use of plastics.

“We also try to order less through Amazon to lessen our carbon imprint. We want to make sure that if we use Amazon it’s something you can only get from there. I have an older dog who has lymphoma and take takes immune support powder, which we can only get from Amazon. But that’s only four times a year.”

Even though Trank believes that the planet will face enormous climate challenges soon, she has an eternal optimist in her. Her role model is her father, who escaped from Nazi Germany to America in 1929.

“I feel strongly that we have the capacity to turn the tide,” Trank says. “I don’t see any other alternative than to be hopeful.”

The city of Longmont itself also contributes to Trank’s optimistic outlook about the future, since the city has taken several steps towards sustainability and conserving the environment lately.

“We’re lucky,” she says. “Our city has a voluntary composting program, which we participate in. We have trash picked up only twice a month, not weekly. One thing though, the city should get more bike lanes.”

Trank says that, five years ago, she made conscious decision to work only 5miles from home, which meant less polluting the air with her car.

Still, because there are so many sunny days where she lives, she wishes she and her family could go solar.

“The problem is that our utilities are so inexpensive that there are no incentives — no renting or leasing options on solar panels,” she says. “But we have a friend who is working with the city to change that.”

And Trank has no intention of moving away. Soon, the youngest of her children will be out of their 1,500-square-foot house.

“We intend to be here for the rest of our lives,” she says. “It will be just right size for us. The heating costs aren’t big, either.”

Still, and maybe because of their fortunate situation, Trank is painfully aware that not everyone was as lucky as her family was.

During the floods, there were children who disappeared with their family’s car into the river. Trank’s eldest daughter’s high school sports coach died when he drove back to his wife to rescue her from their house.

“It is like, why them and not us?” Trank asks.

— Kirsi-M. Hayrinen-Beschloss