Peggy Sanders: Confluence Chronicles 6-11-12 |

Peggy Sanders: Confluence Chronicles 6-11-12

June 9, 1972 was the date of the Rapid City, S.D., flood. The 40th anniversary is upon us with programs and memorials abounding.

While we live 50 miles south of Rapid City, as we also did then, we too have our memories. The most prevalent one is hearing the Emergency Broadcast System in use on the morning after and continuing for some days. EBS was broadcasting the names of the missing, over and over. It got to be such a burden for my little brother, who had recently turned 4-years-old, that we had to shut off the radio. He just couldn’t bear it any longer. I took my little transistor radio outside and listened in private. As living people on the list were found, those names were given. Some showed up at shelters, others found wondering and dazed. Slowly the list of dead was narrowed down to 238, with four of those never found.

The day was rainy throughout the Black Hills, and it got heavier as the day progressed, but nothing was a concern. After nightfall things became severely worse culminating in the washout of Canyon Lake Dam, an impoundment inside the city. Once that happened, to paraphrase, water flowed downhill.

One family that we personally knew from church was tragically hit by the flood, though not in Rapid City. The parents and their three small daughters were returning to Hot Springs from Rapid City and for reasons I can’t recall, were traveling in two vehicles, the girls with their mom in the car. Some 40 miles south of Rapid City the dad stopped his vehicle and got out. The mom did the same. But she was stopped on a highway bridge. Just as she cleared the bridge to talk to her husband in the driving rain, the flood waters hit that bridge and took the car with its headlights beaming, rolled it and the girls over and over until it disappeared. My dad and the church pastor were in the search party who found the bodies a couple days later.

There were also many stories of heroic rescues. It just “happened” that the summer training exercises for the South Dakota National Guard had begun on that Friday. These soldiers were immediately put into real world situations that provided better training than anything they could have created. With the many normally small streams and creeks in the Hills, waterways that all became dangerous torrents, Guardsmen who were not familiar with the area, campgrounds and motels housing tourists – also unfamiliar – it was a recipe for disaster. We know one soldier who helped people cross a raging creek via rope, just to get them out of harm’s way. You can only imagine.

Another friend was a Ham radio operator at Hot Springs and he recounted the vast network of Hams all over the Black Hills who helped out without leaving their homes. As he said, “That is what we had been training for all these years but didn’t know it.”

Peggy can be reached through her website, at

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