Sandy Wahl Perovich
March 5, 2009
I worked at the Job Service office in South Dakota. On the day of the flood, I was traveling back from a seminar in Sioux Falls, South Dakota with two other co-workers. A very strange thing happened as we were getting nearer to Rapid City. A very bright light was seen to the left us us. When the driver slowed down, the light slowed down. When the driver sped up, so did the light. And suddenly, it disappeared straight up into the sky. None of us wanted to talk about it anymore. I got home, and since I was young and had a very stressful week, I wanted to party. I called a friend who lived up in the hills, and it was decided I would drive up and get her, and we would hit the bars. I changed clothes, left my unpacked suitcase on the bed, and took off up High way 44. It was dark, and it was raining, but I thought nothing of it as I had driven in rain many times before. When I got to Johnson Siding, it was raining so hard, I could hardly see, but I continued on. Right around the Placerville area, as I was slowly driving through water crossing the road, my car quit. I looked around and there was water all around, and my car started bobbing. I became very frightened. I didn't know what to do so I started flashing my headlights on and off hoping that someone would see me. Someone did . . . from the Forest Service. He backed up to my car, put a rope on it and slowly started towing me. Suddenly, the rope broke, and he just kept on driving. Now, I was really becoming frightened. I again flashed my headlights, and I saw another set of headlights ahead. Someone got out of the car, and walked towards me. It was a Highway Patrol officer. He told me to leave my car where it was and go with him. I grabbed my purse and went with him. We went up to a little place called Lake Haven. There were many people there, and all were confused. Suddenly, someone came and told us we needed to get to higher ground as Pactola Dam was going to break. Some guy grabbed my arm and pulled me into his car. In the backseat was a couple from out-of-state and their two children. We drove further up on Highway 385 and sat there. We made plans amongst the four of us that if the dam would break, we would grab the children and climb as fast as we could up the hill beside the road. But it never happened. Instead, we were all directed to a trailer court a little further north, and complete strangers took us into their homes. We listened to the radio, and heard stories about flooding, and fires, and explosions, and people drowning, and from what we heard, it seemed the entire city was gone. We all cried and sat their and listened to the radio all night long. When morning came, we all went back to Lake Haven, which was wet but okay. A friend and I walked down Highway 44 back to find my car. We walked and walked and my car was nowhere to be found. The road had washed out a very large portion of the highway . . . right where my car was. We started walking back to Lake Haven. Two airmen from EAFB came down the road and couldn't get to town, They stopped to ask us how to get back as they were new to the area. I volunteered to show them if they would give me a ride to town. We went via Three Forks, to Keystone, and saw a large three-story house sitting in the middle of the highway. We continued on. When we got to Rapid City, they dropped me off downtown as they needed to report in at the base. I walked around in a daze not knowing what to do . . . still in my soaking wet clothes that had never dried, when someone told me that I should go to the Courthouse. When I got there, an acquaintance came up to me and hugged me and said, "You're alive!" He took me to a desk, and they checked my name off . . . I was listed as one of the missing. They told me I couldn't go to my apartment (on the west side) so I ended up going to stay with a friend on St. Patrick. On Monday, I went to the Job Service office . . . and we had been selected to set up a command center for search and rescue. I was told that our manager lost his home in Dark Canyon. Everyone had a story to tell. I worked there for a day and then was taken by a National Guard member to Camp Rapid where I was in charge of watching a red telephone. It was from the White House. If it rang, I was supposed to answer it and immediately get the commander. It never rang. One of the guardsmen took me to my apartment to see if it was still there. And it was . . . so I grabbed some clothes and put them into my suitcase and went back. I still wasn't allowed to stay in my apartment. A day or so later, I ended back at the Job Service office. We head stories of bodies being found. All of us were totally exhausted as we worked from morning to evening . . . with the Red Cross bringing in meals. There was a curfew so no one was allowed on the streets after 8:00 p.m. Someone one would occasionally drop in at my friend's house, and we heard more horror stories of what was being found. We had no running water, so we couldn't shower. We had plenty of food as both of us worked at the Job Service, and we took some home at night. Several days later, someone took me to someone's house up in North Rapid where they had running water, and I had a shower. Then they took me to K-Mart, where I bought myself a bicycle. I used that to go from my friend's house to work and back each day. Eventually, I got to move back to my apartment, and got assistance with transportation from others who worked with me. One day, a person from my car insurance company came to the office and told me they thought they had found my car and needed me to come with them to identify it. We went up to the area where my car had been, and we started walking south. We walked about three miles, when I saw my car . . . or what was left of it. No glass. No tires. Trunk open and all contents gone (I had books and a wig and some extra clothes in there). Hood open and motor area filled with debris. The glove box was still locked. I took my key and opened it, and out rolled a can of beer! I was so embarrassed. The insurance representative popped it open and took a drink, and said it was good, and drank it all. My paperwork was still there, soggy but readable, so I would be able to get insurance. I was also shown a tree about fifty yards from my car where they had found the body of a man who was working on the REACT team. I believe his last name was Harris, but I can't remember exactly. His Jeep was still on the road a little way up from where my car used to be. They told me they thought he probably went to check to see if anyone was in my car, and the waters took my car and took him to his death. To this day, I feel guilty. I knew several people who died during the flood, and it took a long time for me to get my life back to normal and to buy another car. But, the memories are still vivid in my mind, and whenever I am in my car, and it is raining very hard, I panic. I will never totally forget. I am thankful that for some reason God chose me to live.
“Sandy Wahl Perovich,” Flood of 1972, accessed July 2, 2020, https://1972flood.omeka.net/items/show/599.