Hundreds of Rapid City residents gathered Saturday night to remember those who died during the 1972 flood.
Rapid City officials shared stories of people who died in the June 9 flood and ways the flood changed the city. At the end of the lengthy convocation ceremony, retired KOTA Radio announcer Verne Sheppard read the names of all 238 victims.
“I could tell you nightmarish stories of this night that would keep you awake for several nights, but I won't,” said Don Barnett, who was the 29-year-old mayor of Rapid City when Rapid Creek flooded. “I've had 40 years of those evenings.”
Barnett told the story of his experience the night of June 9, when he watched water rise higher and higher and tried to warn Rapid City residents through local radio stations. The stations broadcast a warning for about 30 minutes before they lost power, Barnett said.
“At least half of the victims that terrible night never had one word of warning,” Barnett said.
Airmen from Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota National Guard soldiers and airmen, fire fighters from the Rapid City Fire Department and police officers from the Rapid City Police Department helped rescue those stranded by the flood and recovered bodies after the flood. Officials from each organization shared stories of employees who died in their rescue and recovery efforts.
Three Rapid City firefighters died June 9, said Rapid City Fire Chief Mike Maltaverne.
“When we report for duty, we agree that everyone will work the day and go home safely,” Maltaverne said. “We as a department stand here tonight before you and wish to pay our respects to those three firefighters who lost their lives.”
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Col. Mark Weatherington, wing commander at Ellsworth Air Force Base, told the stories of seven airmen who died in flood rescue efforts. More than 3,200 Ellsworth employees volunteered to help with rescue efforts and airmen saved at least 251 people, he said.
“Airmen worked tirelessly,” he said. “The accounts of their bravery rival those of any combat mission.”
One police reserve officer died in flood rescue efforts, according to the Rapid City Public Library.
“Can you imagine that hell on earth that night?” asked Rapid City Police Chief Steve Allender, who was 11 when the flood occurred. “I can’t, but I know several of you out here can.”
South Dakota National Guard members were training in the Badlands and Rapid City June 9 and also helped with rescue and recovery. Three Guard members died.
After the flood, Rapid City officials developed several policies to protect residents in case something similar happens again, said Larry Lytle, who was president of the Rapid City Council in 1972 and 1973.
“If there is another natural disaster or flood, God forbid — and it's going to come, it's just a matter of when — you will be awakened if you're asleep,” he said. “That water should flow through Rapid City unobstructed. Yeah, there might be a building or two lost but there should be no lives lost.”