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This Holiday Weekend Marks The 40th Anniversary Of Austin's 1981 Memorial Day Flood

Cars from a dealership are along Shoal Creek, and some have fallen in, after the 1981 flood.
[PICA-29471], Austin History Center, Austin Public Library
Cars from a dealership along Shoal Creek slid down the bank, some falling in, after the 1981 flood.

Forty years ago during Memorial Day weekend, a devastating flood ravaged Austin. Heavy rain caused Shoal Creek to overflow. The creek and stretches of streets turned into rivers.

Thirteen people died. Nearly 20 families lost homes. Many businesses were destroyed. The flood caused about $36 million in damage, according to the city.

Neighbors worked together to help those in need, repairing properties and returning lost possessions that were pulled downstream.

Watch news coverage from that weekend from KXAN

Austin Flood, May 24, 1981 - News footage, part 2

This wouldn’t be the last time devastating floods would come to Austin. Located in what's called "Flash Flood Alley," Austin has long been susceptible to flooding.

The city has made efforts to reduce that risk since the disastrous weekend in 1981, creating strategies to warn residents when heavy rain is coming and installing technology like flood gauges and barriers at low water crossings.

“While our projects and efforts have lowered the risk of flooding, we cannot eliminate it completely. Austin is experiencing heavier, more frequent rainfall,” the city says. “We only have to look to the deadly, devastating Halloween Floods of 2013 and 2015, and the Memorial Day Flood of 2015, among others, to see that we still have much more work to do.”

View photos of the 1981 flooding and its aftermath from the Austin History Center:

[PICA-29470], Austin History Center, Austin Public Library
Two people stand in floodwater near a sign that reads: "Whole Floods Market Thanks You For All Your Support We Shall Return!"
[PICA-15140], Austin History Center, Austin Public Library
Flood-damaged cars outside photographer Bill Malone's studio at 1010 Lamar.
[PICA-29693], Austin History Center, Austin Public Library
The interior of a flood-damaged show room and furniture.
[PICA-29469], Austin History Center, Austin Public Library
An employee of Whole Foods Market on Lamar surveys the damage. Items were removed from the store to see if anything could be saved and to clean out mud.
[PICA-29695], Austin History Center, Austin Public Library
Flood-damaged furniture, cars and businesses at 11th and Lamar.
[PICA-15139], Austin History Center, Austin Public Library
Two automobiles are sunk in the water.

View more photos from the Austin History Center.

Marisa Charpentier is KUT's assistant digital editor. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @marisacharp.
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