RAPID CITY, S.D. (KELO) — It was a somber week in Rapid City as people participated in the 50th commemoration of the deadly 1972 flood.
Remember, honor, and commemorate. That was the theme of a week long event looking back on the tragic flood that took the lives of 238 people and destroyed hundreds of homes.
“We saved quite a few people, but we lost a few too. That’s the part that you never forget, the ones that got away. We continued on the rest of that night doing the same thing over and over. It’s still hard to think about, but it was a long night,” Len Kemits, former National Guardsmen, said.
“We could hear a lot of screaming which was just hard to understand when you didn’t know exactly what was going on,” Shirley Eben, survivor, said.
“We went to New York Street and found people in trees and on top of houses, many screaming for help,” Mike Sorenson, former National Guardsmen said.
Many people shared stories and experiences of the horrific night on June 9th, 1972, and the day after.
“I was paying out line on the end of the rope, standing in waist-deep water when I was hit by some debris and I think it was a water heater and it knocked me to the bottom of the water and I took a mouthful of somebody’s lawn and about a block later I was able to get back up out of the water,” Mike Sorenson, Former National Guard said.
“So then later, we drove around and looked at things and it was just shocking, embedded in my mind now forever with cars stacked on top of each other and houses moved off of their foundations and things that were just so different than they were the day before,” Shirley Eben, survivor, said.
Last week, dozens of people showed up to Memorial Park to walk in honor of the 238 lives that were lost 50 years ago.
“There were a number of homes and businesses that were relocated after the flood from this location, so there is a lot of history here, a lot of memories,” Jeff Biegler, Dir. of Parks and Recreation, said.
While these memories are difficult to look back on, Former Mayor Don Barnett says it’s important to do so.
“We decided that we would not rebuild in the flood plain and we would create this recreational avenue all the way from Canyon Lake down to the Pennington County Fairgrounds on Campbell Street. That’s about 5 blocks wide and 5 miles long and this recreational trail right here is one of the beauties of our recovery,” Former Mayor Don Barnett said.
After the flood, approximately 1,200 acres of open space and park systems were added to the City of Rapid City.”
So that no homes and no families would be at risk if a devastating flood ever happened again.
“With help from the School of Mines professors in Rapid City, we were able to define a recovery plan that would lead to the relocation of 1,700 families and about 220 businesses,” Barnett said.
Barnett says it’s also important to remember how the community came together to begin a road to recovery after the tragic event that changed Rapid City forever.