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Rob Oliver Talks About Surviving Rapid City Flood

June 6, 2012, 6:00 PM by Don Jorgensen

Rob Oliver Talks About Surviving Rapid City Flood

Imagine listening to the radio and you hear the announcer read your name as one of the many who are listed as missing following the 1972 Rapid City flood.

That's what happened to Rob Oliver, who is now the president of Augustana College.  Oliver was just 18 at the time and just finished his first semester of college when he found himself caught in the middle of the flood in the dark of night.

238 people lost their lives in the flood.  The next day, as emergency crews and volunteers began looking for survivors and recovering bodies, thousands were unaccounted for including Rob Oliver, who got caught in the rising water along with three of his friends.

"We actually ended up in the water and locked our arms together around a tree and water came up to our chest.  We watched as all kinds of this was happening.  Go by houses and cars and people and dogs, everything," Rob said.

The next morning was a surreal feeling for Rob.

"An odd thing happens when the next morning, they are reading missing persons and all of a sudden you hear your own name.  I said, 'Wait a minute.  I'm okay.'  But I heard my own name as a missing person and later on I heard my parents names and I had no idea where they were," Rob said.

Rob's parents had been swept away after evacuating their home.  They were lucky enough to survive. One spent the night on top of a floating garage; the other clung to a tree and was later rescued by the National Guard. 

Oliver's wife, Angie, was only 15 at the time.  Her house was high enough above Canyon Lake to stay safe.

"But we were watching what we thought were boats in the lake, and you didn't boat on Canyon Lake, you could only canoe.  It was a minute later we learned it was cars," Angie said.

Angie remembers the sound of the roaring water, but heard something else that still haunts her today. 

"I said, 'I'm hearing cats,' and the woman in our house said, 'That's not cats.  Those are people screaming,'" Angie said.

Both feel lucky to have survived.

"I can't emphasize how fortunate we were.  Others lost so much more; we lost all our stuff, but stuff can be replaced.  Others lost family and you never get over that," Rob said.

Angie's grandparents had to be rescued from their home that night too.

If there's a silver lining in all of this, Rob says it's when he stayed with a friend for the remainder of the summer.  Angie lived next door and that's how the two met.

For more from Rob and Angie Oliver on their experiences in the Rapid City flood, click on the play button below.

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