Kentucky Derby Museum officials reflect on 2009 flood

10 Years Later: Kentucky Derby Museum officials remember devastating flood

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - This weekend will mark a decade since a day most Louisvillians remember well.

Six inches of rain fell in just one hour. Major flash flooding left most of the city underwater in August 2009.

Dozens of drivers had to be rescued -- and when water flowed into the Kentucky Derby Museum -- the staff sprang into action.

“Water started pouring into those lower-level offices, and you can see that in the video, how insane that is,” Rachel Collier, Kentucky Derby Museum Director of Communications, said.

First, Collier said employees thought incoming water was just a leak, but soon they realized it was out of control.

Video shot on a camcorder by an employee during the flooding shows staff on the building lower floor wading through water.

The video depicts people trapped inside looking out of windows hoping to find dry land, but, instead, seeing submerged cars and what amounted to a moat surrounding the museum.

“Trucks came down through here, and as they did, it created waves like in the ocean and literally moved these vehicles,” Carla Grego, who was working the day of the flood, said.

Museum employees said police were saving people nearby, but told the dozens trapped in the facility to stay put.

At that moment, another rescue operation was happening deep within the building.

“The team had already started to form a human chain,” Grego said.

The goal was to save one-of-a-kind artifacts from being destroyed.

“They were somebody’s personal artifact that came from their Derby story,” Grego said. “As a museum, that’s our job is to preserve that and that’s what we all did.”

All threatened pieces were removed, 37 were sent to be restored, according to museum staff.

A print advertisement from 1897, which was damaged in the flood, but restored, is still on display at the Kentucky Derby Museum, telling a story that could have been lost forever.

“It’s one of those days of your life, whether it be personal or professional, you just don’t ever forget,” David Sweazy, an employee who made his way through flood waters to buy $1,000 worth of groceries for trapped patrons, said.

It took almost a year to clean up the museum after the flood.

Museum leaders said they’ve seen a lot of growth since 2009, including multi-million-dollar facility additions.

They added that attendance is also up 73 percent over the last decade.

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