Carla (Dewey) Johnson

Description

Written Memory

Date

June 10, 2012

Text

1972 FLOOD IN RAPID CITY, SD

This story was told to me by my mother, Leota J. Dewey, who survived the 1972 flood. She died September 25, 2006 at the age of 90.

I, Carla (Dewey) Johnson was employed by the VA in Hot Springs, SD as an RN the evening of June 9th, 1972. Flood warnings kept flashing on the TV screens all evening. I worked until midnight that evening. We lived at the “dam house” at Angostura Dam. My husband, John, was the dam tender and ditch rider for the Angostura Irrigation District. He had left a note on the table letting me know that he had taken our two sons, Shawn and Ross, to a nearby neighbor’s and had to take care of some flooding issues with the Irrigation District. As soon as I got home, I started trying to call my parents home in Rapid City to see what was going on. By then, I only got a busy signal, as all the lines were down because of the flood. There were no cell phones at that time. When my husband, John, got home, he asked me what I was doing. I told him I was trying to call my parents because I wanted to know if they were okay. He assured me they were okay. He had helped with flooding when he had been in the National Guard, and felt they were okay in their location. He convinced me to come to bed. The next morning, we were awakened by a phone call from friends about the flood. They asked if we turned on our radio, or TV. We said we hadn’t. They said the first thing they heard was, “if you find a body, report it to such and such number”. They told us about how bad it was. We turned on our radio right away. Almost instantly, the announcer said my mother’s name and said she was okay, then he broke in with another announcement. By this time, I realized my dad, George Dewey, was out of town at a conference. I was so grateful to hear that my mother was okay. I had no idea where she was or what she had endured until later. Another neighbor of mine, June Wilkinson, called me right away and asked if I had heard that my mom was okay? She had heard the same announcement that I had heard. She knew my mother, and knew I would want to know this good news. As we listened to the news report, we were in disbelief. We could not imagine the magnitude of the damage and lives that were lost. We wanted to go to Rapid right away, but they were telling everyone not to come. They would be stopped at the city limits and, or arrested. So, we stayed by our radio and phone. To this day, I cannot remember when I actually heard from my mom, or got to see her. We were so blessed that she was spared that horrific night.

The story that Mom told us that she had experienced that night was the following. Mom and Dad had purchased a mobile home from Green Star Mobile Home Sales which was located near the railroad tracks close to Baken Park right off Omaha Street. Green Star had a trailer lot for rent they decided to lease. The night of the flood, Mom had been bowling. Right after she got home, she heard the flood warnings and decided she should seek higher ground. Mom always had a plan of what she would take with her if she had to evacuate. So, based on her plan, she started loading her files, picture albums and a few other valuables into her car parked on the cement pad next to their trailer. It was raining so hard that her London Fog coat was soaked. So, she went back into the trailer to get a different coat. When she went to the door to get into the car, the wall of water hit. She was able to get the door of the trailer closed. At some point, the trailer washed away from the lot and was wedged against a power pole and some other trailers. By this time, it was dark. She remembered sitting on the kitchen cabinets. She said she knew she was going to die, but was not sure if it would be asphyxiation from gas, electrocution, or drowning. She remembered hearing people screaming, but in her mind she thought some kids were having a party near by. When morning came, no idea when this happened, but she said some rescuers knocked on her door and told her to come with them. She wanted to know where they were taking her. Wherever it was, she thought that would be worse than where she was. So, she did not want to go. Somehow, they convinced her to leave with them. To this day, we do not know who came to get her. We want to thank them for taking care of Mom.

In the meantime, Dad had gotten word of the disaster. He made a beeline for Rapid City. Somehow he was able to get in and find Mom. The trailer, their car and pickup were demolished by the flood. Between insurance and government assistance, they were able to replace their vehicles and find a home. They lived in a home in Robbinsdale until they could purchase a home in Rapid Valley. They lived up high. Mom said she didn’t get flood insurance because if it ever flooded there, there would not be anyone to collect from.

Mom and Dad were able to move on with their lives. However, Mom was always nervous when clouds looked threatening. She could not visit us at our home near Angostura Dam if it looked like it was going to rain. She did not receive any therapy following her experience, but in hindsight, it probably would have been in order. We will never forget what a disaster the flood was, and how we were blessed by the survival of Mom.

Collection

Citation

“Carla (Dewey) Johnson,” Flood of 1972, accessed June 16, 2021, https://1972flood.omeka.net/items/show/364.