Rescue Story: Restoring Waterlogged Data After the Flood

Last Updated: 04/20/2015

Everything was wet. From her apartment furnishings and food to clothes and personal keepsakes. But it was the Macbook and all the data that was on it that was the crushing blow.

“The computer and school books were the hardest hit for me,” said Anna Cooper. “I could replace the clothes and furniture.” But losing the photos and class notes that she had stored on her Mac laptop was particularly devastating for the senior who is pursuing a degree in Psychology and a TEFLA certification.

As was the case for many CU-Boulder students who were living in off-campus housing near the Boulder Creek on September 11, nearly everything in Anna’s apartment was engulfed and destroyed. And it so happened that Anna was in the midst of a transition from one apartment to another when the flood hit. But it didn’t matter where her belongings were as they were waterlogged in both locations.

“In one apartment, a couple feet of sewage backed up into the house,” said Anna.


Anna's flooded apartment

Flood soaked belongings in Anna's appartment.


And when the flood waters receded and she was able to retrieve her computer, all it would do is spin. “I saw the spinning wheel and thought my computer was bricked,” she said.

That’s when the Office of Information Technology’s Desktop Support team got involved. Anna was working with CU-Boulder’s Office of Victim Assistance and someone suggested she visit OIT’s walk-in desktop support center.

Anna had tried to pull data off her Macbook using techniques she had Googled without success. So when she left the Macbook with OIT’s desktop support team, she was hopeful, but not optimistic, about the chances of getting any data off the laptop. On the other hand, she was very happy that OIT was able to loan her a laptop in the meantime so she could participate in her classes which all heavily rely on online resources.

“If it wasn’t for you guys loaning me this laptop, I wouldn’t be in school right now,” said Anna. “That was huge.”

David Elrod, the manager of OIT’s General Desktop Support team also tried a number of data recovery techniques that at first proved unsuccessful in retrieving data from the waterlogged computer. Then he tried a targeted disk method that involved connecting Anna’s Mac to another Mac; in essence using the second Mac as an external hard disk. This last method was considered a long shot after everything else had failed, but it was this last-ditch effort that finally showed there was retrievable data on Anna’s computer.

“That was the first time I saw a glimmer on her face during the hour we were working on it,” recalled David.


Anna with David

Anna holds the loaner laptop while David recalls the data rescue story.


The targeted disk method allowed David to move files from Anna’s flooded Mac to the secondary Mac and restore the files she thought were lost. Some of those files were irreplaceable and of sentimental value for Anna. Over the past year, Anna taught English in Cambodia and organized a project to buy mattresses and bedding for the impoverished children she worked with everyday. Her Macbook was the only repository for many of the pictures she took while in Cambodia as well as for many pictures of her father who passed away five years ago.

In addition to restoring her pictures, the data restoration process also saved her class notes and helped bring Anna back from the brink of quitting school.

“I can’t tell you how grateful I am for what OIT was able to do for me,” said Anna. “You came to the rescue when I was ready give up on ever getting my data back.”

About OIT’s General Desktop Support service: OIT provides free desktop support to all CU-Boulder students, faculty, staff and retirees. This applies to both personally owned and university-provided computers, tablets, and smartphones. We provide a wide range of services including virus and malware removal, assistance with software installation, general troubleshooting, and much more.


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