In the early evening of Friday, June 9, Joel Pine, a 37-year-old state trooper, spotted a family of tourists pulled over on U.S. Highway 16 on the way to Mount Rushmore.

He offered to take the family to a hotel in Keystone while the father headed to Rapid City for auto repairs. That decision led Pine to spend his evening in Keystone, the small town near Mount Rushmore, which was among the most flood-stricken communities surrounding Rapid City.

As rain fell and water levels climbed, the trooper watched as his car nearly floated away before he could drive it out of rising water. He piled locals and tourists into his car and led others to the visitor's center at Mount Rushmore.

"I was trying to get the whole town out," he said. "Once those rains really came down, you could hear people screaming at night and propane bottles fizzling."

Keystone suffered about $1.6 million in commercial and residential damage, equivalent to about $9 million today. Eleven people died, all campers in sites at nearby creeks.

Pine found the bodies at daybreak Saturday, still in sleeping bags and wrapped around bridge rails. He said his interview for this story is the first time he has talked extensively about the flood in nearly 35 years.

"I actually forced my way into the building that was dry, moved some stuff around in there and started making a morgue," said Pine, 77, who is originally from Ishpeming, Mich.

Local survivors helped him move the bodies from flooded ground into the dry building until a coroner could identify the dead.

Though Rapid City received the national headlines, adjacent communities were leveled as well, forcing long rebuilding efforts.

"I think everyone was a little shocked at what took place. Those people came together and helped everyone," said Pine, who remained a trooper until he retired in 1984.

"There are probably five or six hours of that night I can't even remember," he said. "I didn't feel like I would make it through that night, let alone be here."

In Black Hawk, 79-year-old Don Konechne owns a 1,000-acre ranch north of Interstate 90 along Boxelder Creek. Fifteen inches of rain upstream in Nemo turned a typically tame creek into a rushing river overrunning its banks.

As the water level spiked, Konechne loaded his three young boys and wife into a truck and drove into Rapid City. There, he met a woman who needed a ride to the hospital, where he recalls lines out the door and blood mixing with rain puddles near the entrance.

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He drove his family back to Black Hawk, where they survived the storm. On Sunday, bodies began washing up along his property, three in the first few days. More than two weeks later, as he walked along the creek, a fourth body turned up in a sand dune.

“He was an Air Force guy, laying face up, and he still had his Levis on and mostly covered up with sand," Konechne said.

The bodies had drifted downstream before getting held up on his property. Debris clogged the creek near the greyhound-racing track, and when it budged, the torrent ripped downstream, taking out those in its path.

"I didn't even want to take a picture. Who would want to take a picture of this mess?" Konechne said. "We were so mad."

In all, 14 deaths were reported in Black Hawk. Many of those were people attempting to rescue others.

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Sturgis reported damage throughout town, but nobody died. There were four deaths in Box Elder, and many lost homes and trailers. Mild basement flooding took place in Spearfish.

In Nemo,  Boxelder Creek swept one man away. The damage in Nemo was substantial, but major devastation and loss of life happened downstream. It's estimated that Nemo received up to 15 inches of rain that evening, though broken gauges made precise measurements impossible.

"When we had so much rain here, we knew it had to be flooding someplace," said Marilyn Keough, 68, who lived about a half-mile outside Nemo.

A friend filled a 5-inch rain gauge three times that evening, she said. Cabins along the creek washed away, and water destroyed the roads back to Rapid City.

"The community pulled together. Everyone helped their neighbors get on their feet," Keough said.

It was days until she could eventually drive into Rapid City and witness the aftermath of the worst flood in the state's history.

"We were able to get into Rapid," she said. "And driving by all the churches with cars and packed with people — you couldn't put it into words, that was just horrifying."

[Editor’s note: This story has been changed to reflect a correction. This story should have reported there were four deaths in Box Elder.]

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Contact Ryan Lengerich at 394-8418 or ryan.lengerich@rapidcityjournal.com.

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