The flood that changed Western South Dakota – 47 years later

RAPID CITY, S.D. – On June 9th, 1972 a disastrous flood changed Rapid City forever. Sunday morning people gathered for a flood walk to honor the victims. This is the second year that “Friends of Rapid City Parks,” put on the walk.

A storm system stalled over the Black Hills, causing canyons to flood, and essentially turning them into rivers. Rapid water swept away homes, cars, and left residents trapped with nowhere to go. 

Cattle stranded following flooding

Photo Courtesy of Gov. Noem

Cattle stranded following flooding.

The lack of technology made it nearly impossible for first responders to reach those who were in danger. The death toll was among the largest in natural disaster history leaving 238 people dead. 

Debris from structures built up, blocking bridges and making the flood worse, today, “Friends of Rapid City Parks,”  is committed to keeping vulnerable areas clear.

“The reason there’s no stuff in this park is because that is what killed people, is having structures in the greenway,” said a member of Friend of Rapid City Parks, Suzanne Martley.

After losing three firefighters in ’72, Rapid City Fire is thoroughly trained for disaster, keeping a close eye on bodies of water fill and overflow.

“As a department what we do to prepare- every firefighter has a basic operations level training in swift water rescues,” said Lt. Jim Bussell. 

Lt. Bussell follows in the footsteps of his father who was a first responder during the flood.

Ellen Bishop wrote a book about the lives of all of the people who died during the flood, in hopes that their legacies live on. Among the victims was her late husband’s parents.

She gives us a glimpse of that day:

“Some of the people who died in west rapid were on the roofs of their houses drinking and having a good time watching it rain until this water came and washed them away and they died. They literally did not see what was coming,” said Bishop. 

The disaster changed Rapid City but the people that call the Black Hills home, refuse to let it happen again. 

“That’s really why we clear the flood plain so that no one sleeps in the flood plain…no one sleeps in the flood plain,” said Bishop. 

Categories: Local News, South Dakota News