Unfortunately, many older citizens of Rapid City remember truly epic flooding and a horrible tragedy that occurred here.
On June 9, 1972 Rapid City was deluged with rain from an unusual stationary storm. The storm stalled over the Black Hills and continued dumping heavy rains. The storm dumped 15 inches of rainfall in just six hours.
That immense downpour led to the failure of a dam, sending an incredible amount of water into Rapid Creek which runs through Rapid City.
In 1972 dozens of homes sat in the floodway. Many were washed away. Some people survived by hanging on to old cottonwood trees throughout the night. There are countless stories from people who survived but often those stories include the loss of others. A tremendous number of lives were lost in the flood—238.
Estimates put the damages at $165 million (that’s in 1972 dollars).
That tragedy led to a decision that altered Rapid City’s future forever.
Rapid City was going to be rebuilt, that much was certain, but no one ever wanted to experience that level of tragedy again. Even though the federal government was ready to rebuild homes where they had been, Rapid City leaders decided against doing that. The tragedy was too immense to run the risk of repeating it ever again.
As a result, a decision was made to turn the floodway into park lands—keeping citizens safe and changing Rapid City into an amazing recreational community with beautiful bike paths and hiking trails.
If you are interested in learning more about the 1972 Rapid City flood, the Journey Museum in Rapid City has a great interactive display that includes eye-witness accounts and many photos of the event. Also, a monument to the victims is in located in Rapid City’s Memorial Park. Some bodies were recovered 20 miles down Rapid Creek—and a few bodies from the flood have never been recovered.
We remember the tragedy that took place in Rapid City. I am truly grateful for the foresight of Rapid City’s leaders in 1972—changing this community forever, making it safer, and creating something amazing out of a horrible tragedy.