1972 Flood Survivors Tell Their Stories.

Dakota Digest - 06/04/2012

This week SDPB is taking a look back 40 years at the June 9th 1972 Black Hills Flood.  To this day the '72 Flood remains the most deadly disaster in South Dakota history.  It's also among the worst flash floods ever recorded in the United States.  SDPB's Charles Michael Ray compiled the voices of flood survivors who witnessed the event.   

"At noon on June 9th we took a departmental picture and just about everybody came to the Police Department I don't think we were only missing a couple of people, but it was a funny, funny day--very humid, kind of gray sky, kind of warm, easy to sweat but no air movement it was an odd day," says Tom Hennies former Rapid City Police Chief.   Hennies survived the 72 flood and died in 2009

"When it started to rain it was black and when you looked west out this direction it was absolutely stunning how black It was,"  says Jim Coleman '72 Flood Survivor.

"It was about eight o'clock or something the wind come up and by then the whole hills were a solid wall of water it just set there it wouldn't come off," says Alex Koscielski who was a meteorologist that worked for the National Center For Atmospheric Research. 

"The rain, instead of being raindrops was big sheets of water coming down one after another just these huge sheets, it was like nothing I ever saw before. It was incrediblae. And like nothing I've ever seen sense. " says Charlie Ray '72 Flood Survivor. 

"Of course it kept getting darker and darker and pretty soon the electricity went off and the phones were gone," says Chris Coleman '72 Flood Survivor.

"You could not see anything at that point because it was just pitch black outside unless some lightning would and that would just light up the creek.  The night was punctuated frequently with lightning and that as kind of a godsend in a sense because you had some idea of what was going on," says Jim Coleman '72 Flood Survivors.

"Thermo pane Windows we had and the water was up there about six inches or so and we thought this is no big deal it will go back down. And just as we were standing there watching it the water just started coming up on those windows and wasn't more than just a few minutes and we were standing on our tip toes looking out over the water.  And we got to thinking you know this isn't smart we better get upstairs.  So we went upstairs and we no more than got to the top of the stairs and a telephone pole came through one of those big windows and five feet of water came crashing into the whole house, just shook the whole place," says  Charlie Ray '72 Flood Survivor. 

"My mother and brother were living right along Rapid Creek.  She had a big double wide wooden trailer they had been caught that night in that flood, and they ended up on that little island and they could see people trying to get through all that debris that was coming down and they seen people just being washed away, says Art Zimiga, former Head of Native American Education in Rapid City Schools and a '72 Flood Survivor.

"The sound was unbelievable just like a freight train running you could hear those kids hollering for help and the fire truck was floating and there was no way we could get to them we had no equipment we had no way to tie people to a rope or anything like that. And as the night went on it got quieter and they quit yelling some fell off, some fell out of other trees and those that stayed on those houses were safe as it turned out the houses didn't leave the foundation," says Tom Hennies former Rapid City Police Chief

"I did see a big frame house come down on the east side of our house and hit a big cottonwood tree and just explode just literally  designated right there on the spot. And I saw other objects float by at a good 20 miles per hour not exaggerating,"    says  Charlie Ray '72 Flood Survivor.

"When the sun came up and you looked out there and you saw that swollen, I mean it was totally unrecognizable you couldn't imagine this was Rapid Creek the place you fished in 24-hours before," says Jim Coleman '72 Flood Survivor. 

"By then they were getting organized looking for bodies and stuff so I found a boy about five years old he was dead laying on some debris I didn't touch him or nothing I just went back and told the authorities where he was at and then I quit," says Alex Koscielski who was a meteorologist that worked for the National Center For Atmospheric Research on the night of June 9th.

"It was so strange, everything was upside down, I seen Volkswagens stuck in trees, I seen boats stuck in trees, I seen different things and just debris and then there was a number  of Lakota people that lived down in that area and they also had perished in that," says Art Zimiga '72 flood survivor.

"Five of my neighbors were killed in this flood two or three of the fireman that were drown were   drown in my backyard where Rapid Creek ran at that time,"  says Tom Hennies former Rapid City Police Chief.  

"And in fact we lost in that little section there 38 people. On just that one Road.  In just that one little section, I don't know how many houses but probably 20 houses in that area, says Jim and Chris Coleman '72 Flood Survivors.

"Now that I've seen a phenomena like the  '72 flood I know that it can happen again, or that an even bigger flood can happen. People that weren't there and who were born later have no idea the possibilities that can happen, and they're like we were before the flood, they never dreamed that they'd be flooded out," says Charlie Ray 72 Flood Survivor.    

"And it gave me a lesson in life that you can't take things for granted that there is a power much greater than all of us," says Art Zimiga '72 Flood Survivor.


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