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Mantecan recalls major 1997 floods
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ROSE ALBANO RISSO/Bulletin correspondent Workers at an egg facility on the southeast corner of Fig Avenue and South Airport Way use a boat to save the eggs.

Lois Bragg Colvin just moved to Lathrop when the 100-year flood hit South San Joaquin County.

Like many residents living in the areas of the deluge, Colvin can still relive the effects of the rising waters after more than 22 years — boils weakening the levees, sandbagging along the San Joaquin River, evacuation orders for those threatened by the floods, mobile homes submerged in the water, among other memories that still seem to be only yesterday.

As vivid as those recollections are, there is nothing like those on paper. As the old Chinese proverb says, “the faintest ink is better than the best memory.”

Colvin is aware of that from first-hand experience. Not too long ago, as she was moving from one home to another, she came across the blue plastic box she had kept through the years filled with issues of the daily Manteca Bulletin newspaper that documented the 100-year New Year’s floods of 1997.

“I was a subscriber to the Manteca Bulletin and kept each copy because, at the time, I was married to a long-haul trucker who was, at the time, on the eastern part of the United States,” she said.

She diligently saved all those copies “so he could see all that was happening at home. I kept each edition in a watertight rubber-made container,” she explained.

Many people simply toss the papers away once they are perused. That was not what happened in the case of Colvin and her then husband. They are now divorced.

“After he got to read all and see the pictures, I decided to hang on to them and they were put on a closet shelf, until years later when I had to move due to a pending divorce,” she explained.

That was eight years ago, when she was moving to Manteca from Lathrop where she was living during the floods. While she was emptying closets, she came across the box of newspapers. Fourteen years after she collected the Bulletin’s complete coverage of the floods, she said she decided “to keep them as a historical record.” Included in the collection is the Special Edition which won the paper an award from the California Newspaper Publishers Association.

Mandatory evacuation

Her youngest sister and her family who lived in Stockton on Diamond Oaks went under mandatory evacuation because of boils that weakened the levees near where she lived. As far as she knew, her family in Lathrop was not under such order but later found out otherwise.

Her sister was watching her children on Hoyt Lane in Manteca when she decided to go home “to check on the animals and feed them.” But as she reached Airport Way and Louise Avenue, she was stopped by a Manteca Police officer.

 “He was there detouring everyone saying, ‘if you don’t live or own a business, you are not allowed’ because the area is under ‘mandatory evacuation,’” she was told.

“I told them I lived on Bizzibe (street in Lathrop) and we weren’t under evacuation; only those west of I-5! And he said, ‘no, all of Lathrop was (under evacuation), so he let me through.”

Before heading home, she stopped at City Hall (the temporary City Hall located at J.R. Simplot on Howland Road at the time) to inquire why her home was under mandatory evacuation.

“They had the underpass on I-5 at Louise plugged up (with dirt) in case of a breach. They said only west of I-5 was under evacuation.”

She explained what she just went through with the Manteca police officer and not being allowed to go to her home. Fortunately for her, a Lathrop fireman also happened to be there who confirmed what she just related, with the fireman adding that he had not been told anything about the evacuation either.

To be on the safe side, since Lathrop is only 18 feet above sea level, Colvin said they made arrangements with a friend in Manteca to have their beds and television sets at his place “until we got the all-clear.” It was not easy considering the many furniture pieces that had to be crammed into one place: sofa lifted up on a coffee table and end tables, dressers on bunk bed frames, and pictures removed from walls.

Flood highlights

Colvin did remember Flo the Cow. That’s the bovine belonging to the Luis Dairy in Manteca which gained national popularity when it was stranded atop a floating trailer home at Waltham Slough next to The Islander mobile home park at the west end of Woodward Avenue in Manteca. Flo — the name she was christened by the news media — became part of the daily news as CNN and other television and newspaper sources documented its daily flood-floatation experience until it was eventually rescued.

All the television coverage of the inundated houses had quite a negative effect on her son Kevin who was four years old at the time. At his Headstart class in Manteca, “they had the TVs on in the class to keep them aware of what was happening just in case they needed to evacuate,” Colvin said.

Because of this, “he was a bit traumatized and had a hard time coping with this,” she said.

A psychologist was brought to the school to talk to all the students and staff “to try to help teach them that they were safe,” added Colvin who worked for the Manteca Unified School District from 1997 until 2007 when she went to work for The Book Exchange in Manteca where she still works.

But it was what her son Kevin told her about the cause of the flood which brings a smile to her face to this day.

She had always had a garden wherever they lived, “and this little guy has on his own decided he knew what had happened! He told me, ‘remember when we forgot to shut off the hose one day and flooded the garden? I think the farmer guy forgot to shut his off!’” Colvin said with a laugh.

“I figured, if that’s what he was willing to believe, it was good enough to let him! I informed his teachers and they, in turn, informed the psychologist who said (my son) was very smart to come up with something so simple and was okay with it, that that’s what they would let him believe.”