Don Barnett hopes the flood markers along the route of the devastating 1972 flood reminds locals to never build on the flood plain again.
“We hope the city council will say not only no, but hell no," if someone tries to build a development on the flood plain, he said at a memorial dedication Wednesday at Cleghorn Springs State Fish Hatchery.
Barnett was the 29-year-old mayor of Rapid City when Rapid Creek flooded on June 9, 1972. He remembers standing near the hatchery building when the creek began flooding. He saw a car go whizzing past in the water and realized the flood could turn deadly. Two hundred thirty-eight people died in the flood that night; many of them were living in housing areas along Rapid Creek.
“We’re not going to reoccupy the flood plain,” Barnett said. “And that’s why we’re having this commemoration program.”
The rectangular bronze plaque dedicated Wednesday states “Heavy thunderstorms on the afternoon and evening of June 9, 1972, caused Rapid Creek to flood this area. The water reached the elevation of this flood benchmark.” The flood line on the plaque, which is on the wall next to the fishery door, is about eight feet high.
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“We have a responsibility, my generation … to carry on the memory of the flood,” said Mayor Sam Kooiker, who introduced Barnett at the event.
The marker is one of several the USGS and others are installing in areas that were flooded in 1972. When the markers are all installed, they will be at Founders Park, The Journey Museum, the Rapid City post office, Storybook Island, South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, Rushmore Plaza Civic Center and the Keystone post office, as well as the hatchery, said Mark Anderson, director of the USGS South Dakota Water Science Center.
The dedication kicked off a weekend of commemorative events throughout Rapid City.
“This marker’s not really for the remembrance of those who saw or experienced the flood, because they can attest to the horror of that dark night,” Anderson said. “The marker is for others in Rapid City — and Keystone, as well — and it serves as a sentinel of Rapid Creek’s destructive power.”