50 Years Ago, ‘The Black Hills Flood’ Devastated Rapid City, SD And Killed 200+ People

9 June 2022

RAPID CITY, S.D. (WCCO) — Thursday marks 50 years since a record flash flood devastated the area of Rapid City, South Dakota, killing over 200 people.

According to the National Weather Service, in the early evening of June 9, 1972, heavy thunderstorms moved in, bringing heavy rain that caused Rapid Creek to rise rapidly. The rain didn’t slow until the overnight hours.

The NWS says during the flood, water rose as fast as 3.5 feet in 15 minutes. The flood crested at 12:15 a.m., when an estimated 50,000 cubic feet per second of water reached downtown Rapid City.

By 5 a.m. the next day, Rapid Creek was once again within its banks.

The flash flooding caused massive damage throughout Rapid City and the eastern foothills of the Black Hills. Several thousand people were injured and 238 people were killed.

As for damage, 1,335 homes and 5,000 automobiles were destroyed, along with 15 of the 23 bridges that went over Rapid Creek.

Flood damage on East Blvd. at Omaha St. in Rapid City, June 10, 1972 (credit: NWS Rapid City, SD)

‘The Water Was Rising Very Fast’

WCCO Weather Watcher Janice Thompson currently lives in Pine Island, Minnesota, but lived near Rapid Creek when the flood occurred. She sent in a picture of her destroyed home, and also shared some insight into her experiences that day.

“I lived in a trailer park next to the ‘gentle’ Rapid Creek,” she said. “Around 11 p.m., heavy thunderstorms continued and the water was rising very fast. I took my beagle, Heidi, and took off to higher ground in our ’65 Mustang. My husband was stationed in Vietnam in the Air Force. I managed to get to higher ground and stayed the night at a friend’s house.”

Thompson said the next day their trailer home was found five blocks down the road, with a huge hole in the side.

(credit: Weather Watcher Janice Thompson)

“Husband got emergency leave and got home. God kept us both safe,” she said.

It remains the deadliest flash flood event in the United States. At the time it was the most costly, too, causing $165 million in damages.

A volunteer fireman searches for flood victims under a tree on the banks of the Rapid Creek; west of Rapid City; S. D.; where the raging torrent uprooted a house from its foundation and swept a car on a tree. (Photo by Fred Ross/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

For more information on the flood, including a detailed timeline, visit the NWS website.

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