After riding the storm out on the roof of her home, Betty Chaloupka shared her family’s experience with a reporter from LIFE Magazine. But 40 years later, the story is more difficult to tell than in the flood’s immediate aftermath.
Ask Betty what she learned from the 1972 flood and she’ll tell you.
“Pay attention to your pets. Our toy Daschund kept running to the front door and the back door, wanting to go out,” Betty said.
She’s convinced that the dog could sense what was about to happen.
“We’d open the door and she wouldn’t go out, yet she’d keep going to the front door. She wanted us to leave,” Betty said.
When the water came onto Dunbarton Street it was too late; the home was surrounded. Betty woke up her husband, Fran, who told her to go grab him a hammer.
“When I opened the door to go get it, the basement window busted and water was half way up. By that time he had made a hole with his fist in the ceiling,” Betty said.
Fran hoisted his wife and two children, into the attic.
“The picture window busted and the wall of water came in our house just as we were pulling Fran up,” Betty said.
“We were in the attic and there’s no way out of the attic. You just have those tiny little vents,” David Chaloupka said.
“The vent, he knocked the vent out and said we should get up on the roof because the house next door just blew up,” Betty said.
David Chaloupka was only nine years old at the time but he vividly remembers that night.
“The water is just right there, and the noise and things hitting. It had the overhang. I remember just standing up in his hand and him just flicking me [up to the roof],” David said.
Everyone, including 220-pound Fran, squeezed through the hole. But their ordeal wasn’t over.
“Every vehicle, there was 10 of them, would hit the house and every time the house would shake,” Betty said.
“We were just always wondering when our house was going to go,” David said.
The home held. By morning, it was the only one left standing on that side of the street.
“We held the house down,” Betty said.
But everything the family owned was gone.
“We didn’t mind losing everything. We lost everything, three cars and a pickup. But we survived,” Betty said.
When a reporter for LIFE Magazine showed up in the neighborhood Betty and Fran weren’t shy about telling their story.
“At that time you were just glad to be able to talk or glad to be alive, let’s put it that way,” Betty said.
But now 40 years later talk of the flood stirs up difficult memories.
“I remember hearing the screams and then it went silent,” David said.
“Well, it almost seems like a nightmare we went through. It’s still very vivid in my mind but I’m glad to be alive and tell it,” Betty said.
Dunbarton Street was located near Meadowbrook Elementary and is now part of Meadowbrook Golf Course. The Chaloupkas still keep a copy of the LIFE Magazine to help maintain a record of what happened that night for future generations.
Read more stories of Rapid City flood survivors and share your own on our 1972 Rapid City Flood page of KELOLANd.com.