Posts Tagged ‘floods’

On June 9, 2011, the Missouri River was steadily creeping over its banks into Pierre, South Dakota , where I live. On June 9, 1972, Rapid Creek was careening through Rapid City, South Dakota, where I briefly lived.

The floods in these two communities are separated by so much more than 40 years and 180 miles. Last year’s flood drove people from their homes, shuttered businesses, and caused millions of dollars in property damage. But we saw it coming. In fact, many watched helplessly as the Missouri River rose and rose, flowing unheeded over a span of weeks and months. There was some time to evacuate (as I related in “What Do You Take?”), fill sandbags, and construct levees.

In 1972, the residents of Rapid City didn’t know what hit them. A storm dumped 10 inches of rain over a 60-mile area, flash-flooding Rapid Creek which winds through the city. Water roared over the creek banks, sweeping buildings, vehicles, trees, and people, ahead of it. Throughout the night, residents clung to whatever they could to survive – fences, trees, light poles, the roofs of houses. They heard the screams of others being swept away, the crack of beams splintering, the groan of metal as cars collided. And above it all, the deafening rush of the water.

When the floodwaters receded on June 10, 1972, 238 people were dead. More than 1,300 homes were completely destroyed with 2,800 more damaged. Thirty-six businesses were lost with another 236 sustaining heavy damage. Five thousand vehicles became scrap metal. The recovery took years.

In the summer of 1985, I was an intern at a radio station in Rapid City and even thirteen years after the horrific events of that day, a heavy rain could still instill fear and dread among the city’s residents.

On the 40th anniversary of the Rapid Creek flood, Rapid City is a community resurrected, risen from the floodwaters that still flow in the memory of so many. And while the devastation caused by last year’s flood in my own community should not be minimized, I can’t help but think of just how lucky we are; it could have been so much worse.

In 1972, the Rapid City Journal gave the country a firsthand account of the Rapid Creek flood. Forty years later, they’re doing the same with an impressive series of interviews and images. It’s well worth a look, especially the collection “The People of the 1972 Flood”.

What Do You Take?

Posted: May 28, 2011 in Weather
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I ran into an old friend of mine today. She was standing in the entryway of her new home, arms thrown open as if in greeting, the chatter of others echoing from the rooms around her.  She looked shocked to see me and when I walked forward and she gave me a hug, she said, “How did you know we were in trouble?” “I’m intuitive that way,” I said. “Thought you could use some help.”

The “trouble” is the rising Missouri River, which is steadily overflowing its banks, driven by the increasing flows from the Oahe Dam which officials say are necessary because of the heavy snowmelts and record rainfalls coming from areas beyond our state’s borders. Shit may roll downhill but water doesn’t, at least not this water. It hurtles, rages, heaves as it comes out of the tubes at the stilling basin then weaves itself into the river and snakes its way downstream. Now it colors outside the lines, creeping over the edges of the land that normally holds it in check, flowing across lawns, pooling in parking lots, washing away roads. That’s what’s happening in Amy’s neighborhood and that’s why I’m there.

Her shock at seeing me was genuine; we haven’t talked to each other, in person, in a couple of years. Not that we’re fighting or anything (not that I’m aware of anyway); more just busy. You know how that goes. Jobs, family, commitments. Sometimes friendships fade over time, even if you don’t intend for them to. But we’re Facebook friends and when I saw her recent posts about sand-bagging her home, her new home that took years to materialize, I figured it was time for a reunion.

Amy quickly filled me in. They’d gotten the word this morning that the road to their housing development would likely be underwater and impassable by this evening. That meant not only did they have to reinforce the sandbags and quickly construct a berm but they had to get out – now – while there was still a road to get out on.

While I joined Amy’s family and friends in packing, hauling and tossing their possessions, it struck me that there are so many things you can live without that you never thought you could. When push comes to shove and you have hours to decide what has to go in the horse trailer and what can ride out the flood on an upper floor, what do you take?

Family pictures, furniture with history, the kids favorite toys, all find spots in the trailer. A desk too heavy to move, a pantry brimming with canned goods, decorative things that can be replaced, all will ride out the flood in the house. I watched Amy make a multitude of snap decisions today, choices I knew she never thought she’d have to make but when the water’s lapping at the back door and you’re looking out over the sandbag hill in your front yard at a neighborhood hurriedly working to save itself, you make ’em.

The residents and businesses in our area who are being impacted by the floodwaters have been preparing for days but it will be months before it’s all over and who knows how it will turn out? We’re fortunate in a way because we’ve had some advance warning, even if the information we’re getting is constantly changing. I think about the residents in Joplin and other communities devastated by tornados and I wonder: in times like that, when your choices are made in seconds or minutes instead of hours, what do you take? Yourself. Your family. Your faith that you’ll make it through this alive. And your hope that things will get better, however long that takes. If you leave with those things, you’ve got a fighting chance.