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SALT LAKE CITY — All was stormy and black the night a flood of rainwater tore through the basement of the Sprague Branch of the Salt Lake City Library.
A flood alarm went off early Wednesday morning, but by the time the library maintenance crew arrived, the basement was under 5 feet of water.
"We’ve never had this kind of water before," said Justin Thorup, facilities manager for the library in Sugar House. "Couldn’t believe it. I've never seen it this bad before."
At its highest, the standing water reached 5 ½ feet deep. There had been water leaks before, Thorup said, but nothing to this magnitude.
The basement floors were still covered in mud, debris and thousands of soggy books on Thursday when cleanup crews came to start pulling up the carpet and tearing down the walls. Tables were overturned, mud coated the shelves and every step on the carpet left swampy footprints. Repairmen were forced to walk over a thick, mucky layer of ruined books in many places to move from one room to another.
"I think they’re just going to toss them,” Thorup said, gesturing to the waterlogged books. "All the ones that are destroyed.”
Heavy rains overwhelmed storm drains and flooded many Salt Lake City streets and homes Wednesday morning. More than 2 inches of water pounded the Sugar House area between midnight and 6 a.m., according to the National Weather Service.
The water that flooded the historic library at 2131 S. 1100 East came from the overflowed banks of Parleys Creek, said Andrew Shaw, public library communications manager. Rainwater rushed past a plugged storm drain and down to the basement via a library stairwell.
"When the water came in, it floated a lot of furniture around, took out some computers and took out a lot of books. We’re looking at a loss of a couple thousand books," Shaw said. "We consider all the materials in there to be a loss."
The basement held the library's nonfiction, children's and teen collections of books, comics and audiobooks.
No rare collections were damaged in the flood, but the water rose high enough to soak an art exhibit in the library's meeting room.
"I was just heartbroken. Seeing how the collections floated in the water is just really heartbreaking," Shaw said.
Crews finished pumping water out of the basement, but now the major concern is mold and bacteria growth, which could spread and damage other sections on the main level.
"It’s all water from outside, so it comes in with dirt, debris," said Brad Tatom, owner of SERVPRO, the water cleanup company restoring the library. "It’s significant, there’s a lot of damage here. Five feet of water, it’s not going to be a simple process."
Neither Tatom nor Shaw had estimates on the total damage costs.
Several people stopped to return books at the library on Wednesday, only to find yellow tape across the entrance steps.
"We were just returning books because we're leaving on Sunday for a yearlong road trip," said Kristen Bonkoski, who lives nearby in Sugar House.
She, her husband and their 4-year-old son usually visit the library about once a week. They hadn't heard about the flooding before coming to the library Thursday morning.
"I think it's really sad, but I'm glad to hear that it's not permanently closed," she said. "(The library's) very homey and cute, and part of the reason I really like this neighborhood."
The library will likely be closed for several months, Shaw said, and the staff will be sent to other libraries across the district. People are encouraged to return their Sprague Branch library books to other nearby libraries, like the Anderson-Foothill Branch or the main library, Shaw said.
"Even though we’ve lost a lot of books, we really consider the biggest loss to be this temporary closure. The Sprague branch is the living room for Sugar House," Shaw said. "People come here with their families, they’ve been coming here for generations." Email: firstname.lastname@example.org