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flood logo-top The Rapid City Flood of 1972 was one of the deadliest floods in U.S. history. More than 200 people lost their lives in a period of hours on the night of June 9-10, 1972. Many people have recorded their memories of that night and the Rapid City Public Library serves as a digital archive of those memories. Do you remember the flood? If so, please share your memories and photos.
flood logo bottom oral history project slogan

Flood Facts
Fmr. Mayor Barnett Remembers   
Barnett Speech at '87 FEMA Event   
In Memory: 238 Perished   

link to access interviews   link to access wiki instructions

Body Dispatch / Identification Report 
Radio Broadcast on June 23, 1972 
RCPL Flood Wiki Home Page   
Index of Flood articles (Excel doc)   
USGS 1972 Flood Information   
USGS BH Floods Since 1877   
USGS Photos (Dr. Perry Rahn)   
Nat'l Weather Service Report   
Aerial Photography of the Flood  
Interactive Flood Map   
Investigation Report   


Then and Now
Photos include 126 images
by Keith Johnson showing flooded
areas immediately after the flood
and 20 years later

rotating flood images
damaged cars after flood


A billion tons of rain left death, destruction and at least one bizarre rumor.

Death and Injury
Deaths - 238, including 5 missing. Also includes 3 National Guardsmen, 3 firefighters, 7 airmen from Ellsworth Air Force Base, 1 police reserve officer and other rescuers

Injured - 3,057, including 118 hospitalized

Homes destroyed: 770 permanent homes,
    565 mobile homes
Homes damaged: 2,035 permanent homes,
    785 mobile homes
Businesses destroyed: 36
Businesses damaged: 236
Vehicles destroyed: 5,000

Financial Loss
Total Damages -- $165 million, throughout the Black Hills
In Rapid City -- $35.1 million in residential damage
    and $30.9 million in commercial damage
In Box Elder -- $1.2 million residential,
    $75,000 commercial
In Keystone -- $137,000 residential,
    $1.5 million commercial
Utilities: $10.3 million
Roads and Bridges: $35.4 million
Rural: $6.2 million
Tourism income lost: $30 million
Other economic losses: $12 million

Total estimated amount of water dumped by the June 9, 1972 storm: 800,000 acre feet, or the equivalent of 14.5 Pactola Reservoirs

Put another way: 1 billion metric tons of water (by conservative estimate) Heaviest rainfall was 15 inches in six hours at Keystone.

One location in the Black Hills reported 4 inches in 30 minutes. More than 10 inches fell over a 60-square-mile area.

The most common rumor, heard nationwide, was the false report that the dam at Pactola Reservoir had burst.

Most unusual rumor: That crocodiles had escaped into Black hills streams from Reptile Gardens. No creatures escaped from the popular tourist attraction, although some rattlesnakes drowned.

Information from the Rapid City Journal's May 17, 1992 Special Edition on the "Flood of 1972 - 20 Years Later".)


Mayor Barnett
Remembers the Flood of 1972

photo of don barnett with George and Eleanor McGovern
(Don Barnett was Mayor of Rapid City from 1971 to 1975. Picture of Don Barnett with Senator George McGovern and Eleanor McGovern (right) courtesy of the Rapid City Journal)

In June, 2007, former Rapid City Mayor, Don Barnett, addressed questions asked of him by students at Waubay Junior High School. In his answers, he tells the story of unfolding of events from the viewpoint of a key person involved in all that happened. A few excerpts are presented below. We encourage you to read the full text of his remarks. They bring to life a remarkable time in Rapid City history.

". . . It was a night of absolute terror . . . The Police Department alerted me about 6:30 that the United States Weather Service had alerted the Police Department about the dangers from potentially high waters on Rapid Creek during the next several hours . . . I called my best advisor, Mr. Leonard Swanson, the City Public Works Director, and we met at City Hall. Heavy rains were falling, and Mr. Swanson and I drove to Canyon Lake Park where a city worker and his family lived in the park caretaker’s home, immediately below the dam. Swanny ordered the caretaker, a Parks Department employee, to immediately take his family, leave their evening meal on the table, and get out of the park. The entire family survived the flood. Not a trace of the home (it was city property) or the contents was ever found. The Canyon Lake Dam failed a few hours later . . ."

" . . . the manager of the gas company put his arm around my shoulder and he said, "Mr. Mayor! Somebody could get killed in this thing." The "thing" was the early moments of the flood. It was an understatement. The crew, Mr. George Miller, and I watched a car float down Rapid Creek from just below the State Fish Hatchery and crash into the bridge above Canyon Lake. Minutes later, the bridge failed and the car and debris floated into Canyon Lake . . ."

" . . . The radio and TV interrupted their programming, issued (Mayor Barnett's recorded flood) warning, and ran it almost continuously for about 30 minutes. The engineer also called the other radio stations and asked them to . . . run the warning non-stop. The stations cooperated.   Unfortunately, about 35  minutes after my first warning, the TV station and radio stations lost their electrical power and went "off the air." They did not broadcast again until the next morning . . ."

" . . . Of course, during every hour of the crisis, Sheriff Glen Best and his deputies worked closely with the police and volunteers in the rural areas surrounding the city to search for survivors and deliver the victims to the funeral homes. It was an on-going process for many, many days. Glen and his force worked in the city and county and provided great service . . ."

" . . . I was with one crew on the east side of town near Roosevelt Park. The firemen and several men from the South Dakota National Guard were using ropes and ladders to save the folks from the raging (and very cold) waters. These courageous actions saved dozens of victims from the flooding waters that also contained debris, parts of homes, mobile homes, and other materials that clogged the bridges. The diverted waters roared into neighborhoods far distant from the creek. Many bridges broke apart. The roar of the noise can only be compared to a terrible train wreck . . ."

" . . . I stopped at the courthouse about 7:00 (am) after I was able to drive the city car from the north side of the creek over a partially destroyed bridge to the south side of the creek. The look on the faces of the folks who were reporting missing family members is still framed in my memory. They feared the absolute worst but were praying for miracles. Many broke down in the temporary offices with worry and fear. Words cannot define this fear and suffering . . . "

Read the full text of Mayor Barnett's remarks (.pdf/144kb)
The full text article can be read with Acrobat Reader. If you do not have this program, it can be downloaded for free from Adobe.