RAPID CITY, S.D. (KELO) — 49 years ago, Rapid City was hit by a deadly flood that killed 238 people. 15 inches of rain ravaged the town, forcing hundreds of families to relocate.
Dan Simpson, who was 19-years old at the time, was married to his wife Claudia Lease Simpson for about 4 months.
“She was funny, she was beautiful, she was brave, she had strong faith, just a wonderful person,” Simpson said.
The evening of the flood, Dan remembers hearing the Mayor on the radio telling everyone South of Jackson Blvd. to evacuate immediately. So they did.
“It was just the beginning of a night of destruction and terror,” Simpson said.
It wasn’t long before their car got stuck in the rising waters, so they found shelter in the nearest home, where they heard 3 kids screaming for help.
“Those little boys needed me to help them, it just had to be done. Claudia knew what I was going to do,” Simpson said.
The two were separated… Until Dan saw Claudia for the last time.
“I saw her because she had a white raincoat on and the lightening was happening every two seconds so that was how we could see in the dark. There was no way I could’ve physically gotten to her, my father was scared I would try, he held me back and as soon as I turned back around the debris hit her and that was the last I saw of her,” Simpson said.
As one of the worst tragedies in his lifetime, Dan was able to heal through time. And see the event in a new light.
“Nothing. We had nothing, houses were gone everything they owned, didn’t have a car, didn’t have any clothes and the town was just amazing. The heart of this town and the people that have gone through this was just.. I’ve never seen anything like it before or since,” Simpson said.
No homes were ever built on the Rapid Creek flood plain again, to prevent any hazard like the 1972 Flood from repeating itself. Instead, you will find parks like this one for the community to enjoy.
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