When Martin Syverson looks at Rapid Creek, he remembers the last dive he ever took.
It was June of 1972 and he and his friend were on day five of diving for victims of the June 9 flood, which killed 238 people.
“Every time I look at the creek, I have these memories,” Syverson said on Sunday, while viewing The Journey Museum’s new 1972 flood exhibit.
Syverson and his diving partner did not hesitate when the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office asked for volunteer divers, but he knew he would have to stop searching Rapid City’s flooded basements and submerged cars if he found the body of a child.
Syverson’s composure faltered before he spoke about his last dive into an upturned car off Jackson Boulevard near Storybook Island.
“There was a little one in it,” Syverson said. “When I came out, I said, ‘OK, I’m done.’ I couldn’t do it anymore.”
Like many who lived through the flood, Syverson hopes it never happens again, but Ray Summers, executive director of The Journey Museum, said that is unlikely.
“The ’72 flood was not an anomaly,” Summers said. “It was something that has occurred often enough to be of concern to people living today.”
On Sunday afternoon, Summers explained to the crowd at the opening of the museum’s “Megafloods: The 1972 Awakening” exhibit that the Black Hills were formed by wind and water.
The exhibit details the scientific study of flooding in the Black Hills and future flood preparation. It focuses also on emergency management, weather service and the media attention that came from the 1972 flood. It will run through Aug. 10 in connection with the 40th anniversary of the flood. The museum will also host sessions throughout the summer covering different aspects of the flood and its impact.
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With a shrinking number of flood survivors, Summers hopes the exhibit will not only honor a monumental event in the history of the Black Hills, but serve as a reminder of water’s devastating capabilities for those who did not witness its power.
“Unless we prepare for these, people will die,” Summers said. “That is why the integrity of the floodway must be maintained.”
The flood destroyed the East Rapid Street home of Syverson’s sister, Evelyn Solano.
“Anytime it starts pouring rain, it gives me the shivers,” said Solano, during Sunday’s reception.
She and her husband were at the dog racing tack on June 9 when it started raining. They hurried home, grabbed their children and drove to higher ground, screaming out the window for people to evacuate.
“We told them to get out,” said Solano, but not everyone heard their warnings or listened.
Martin Syverson, who lived on St. Patrick Street at the time, did not personally know anyone who perished in the 1972 flood, but that did not lessen its impact on his life. Now 80 years old, Syverson lives in a house on a hill near Rockerville, and has shot down requests by his children and grandchildren to live by a creek or stay near Canyon Lake Park when they visit.
“That creek is a beautiful little creek, but it can be very, very dangerous,” Syverson said. “I never realized the power of water -- until the flood.”
Contact Holly Meyer at 394-8421 or firstname.lastname@example.org.