Noem Weekly Column: Remembering the 1972 Flood


Date: June 8, 2012

Forty years ago, I was not even a year old and just beginning to explore the world for the first time. On the other side of the state, however, many families were searching for loved ones and watching their lives change forever.

On June 9, 1972, torrential rainfall in the Black Hills resulted in extreme flash flooding in Rapid City and surrounding local communities. Creeks and streams turned into rivers, which in turn broke through the Canyon Lake Dam, surging into the city. More than 10 inches of rain fell in just over six hours. In all, 238 lives were lost and over 3,000 were injured. Over 1,300 homes and 5,000 automobiles were completely destroyed. Communities and neighborhoods were unrecognizable.

While remembering that day and the devastating loss it brought still brings pain, what rings louder is the way the Black Hills communities and the State of South Dakota rallied together to rebuild. Members of the South Dakota National Guard used ropes and ladders to pull men, women and children from the raging and frigid waters. Nearly 500 airmen came in from Ellsworth to help with relief efforts throughout the night and more arrived in the days that followed. Physicians, dentists and nurses worked tirelessly to assist and aid the wounded and to administer typhoid and tetanus shots.

According to a speech given by then-Rapid City Mayor Don Barnett fifteen years following the flood, seventeen federal agencies were able to join together to assist the Rapid City community without duplication of efforts, and most importantly, without delay. Too often we hear and are witness to dysfunction and discord within the federal government, but the 1972 flood is a shining example of the kind of role the federal government should play -- to help its citizens when they are no longer able to help themselves.

After the waters receded, homes and businesses were relocated out of the floodplain and recovery began to take shape. But the scars of those days would remain.

This weekend, the Rapid City community will remember and honor those who lost their lives that June. And as we remember the tragedy, we also look at where we are today. Rapid City has blossomed into a thriving community for visitors, businesses and residents. Not only should the Black Hills communities be proud of the teamwork they demonstrated 40 years ago, but they should also be proud of their communities as they stand today.

South Dakotans have demonstrated time and time again that we are a resilient people. From the 1972 flood, to the Spencer tornado in 1998, or the Missouri River flood of last year, we rally together and lend a helping hand. Although disasters happen all too often, here in South Dakota, we have 800,000 pairs of shoulders to lean on.