Flooded with memories

Leslie Silverman

A remembrance ceremony of the 1972 Keystone Flood took place June 9 in the Keystone Community Center gym.
 About a half dozen people spoke at the service, including co-organizer Vanessa Row.
“When I was 14 years old my father was one of the firefighters that was killed in the flood,” Row began. “I remember that flood very well. I remember the devastation.”
Co-organizer Sandi McLain introduced the speakers.
John Culberson, who lived in Custer at the time, spoke of how the effects of the flood led him to a lifetime of service, including decades on the ambulance service.
He was just a “scared and wet 25-year-old” at the time of the flood. He rescued many including a group of kids who stood on rooftops, likely children who would have perished by the rising waters without intervention.
John described the devastation of the scenes he witnessed.
“Everything  you hear about, the noise, sounds, the propane tanks, it's all true,” he said.
He elaborates about the wall of water that made its way through Keystone and of the road near the George Washington  profile on Hwy. 244 that was about to give way.
He recalls seeing a woman  by the first bridge in Keystone “hung up in a sleeping  bag.”
She did not survive.
John became Keystone’s first unofficial Keystone official, appointed  by a general  of the National Guard. Keystone had officially just incorporated but had not yet elected officials to lead.
Tim Goodwin lives on Joel Pine Road and told  his neighbor’s, Joel Pine’s, story. Pine was a highway patrolman  in 1972 who  got a call on the radio and got to town at 7 p.m. There were rocks and boulders in the streets.
He went to the Ruby House to make a call because  the electricity prevented him from using his radio. He thought the storm was over but kept getting repeatedly tugged  on his sleeve by a local child. The child was trying to alert him that his car was floating away.
Pine began evacuating people in  the town, throwing them into patrol cars and bringing them to the gas station on higher ground and to Mount Rushmore. Goodwin relayed that townsfolk were concerned about Mount Rushmore flooding.
According to Goodwin Pine remarked “if Mount Rushmore  gets flooded it’s the end of times.”
Pine made repeated trips to and from town to the monument. Like Culberson, Pine wants people to know he isn’t a hero, he was just doing his job.
Jack Brat, who was not in Keystone  during the flood, spoke about  the  important role the National  Guard  played  during the floods.
Brat surveyed the flood from the perch of a helicopter  which he said was “bouncing around.”
“The sky was a greenish jade color. I’ve never seen anything like that in my life and nothing like it since,” he said.
Calls came in for guardsmen to return  to Camp Rapid as they had been given the weekend  off. Responding,  their mission quickly became that of search and rescue. The days after the flood were spent in body search.
“The flood was likened much to war,” he recalls a Rapid City Journal from 1972 article announcing.
Pam Knapp recalled the events  in Keystone firsthand from her kitchen at the hotel she ran. She was standing in the kitchen making dinner when she heard a large roar when her kitchen caved in.
“It was raining so hard you couldn’t see the hands in front of your face,” she said.
The footbridge and car bridge were destroyed.
She gathered guests who were in their night clothes or underwear.  All were very wet, she said.
Her guests became hysterical wanting to throw mattresses out the window.
“There was nowhere to go,” Knapp recalled.
At daylight the National Guard made a makeshift bridge to help her family and guests across the creek transporting them to Mount Rushmore.
Pamela Selberg from the Small Business Administration shared her own anecdotal tidbits. She remembers the stench of air June 10 and recognized the importance of a found item she was tasked with cleaning, even though she was only 12 when the flood hit.
“Fifty years, the impact will never fade,” she said emotionally.
Although there were challenges in record keeping back then she was able to find data for  what would be called “the South Dakota  1972 flood.”
Disaster was officially declared June 10.
Back then places were not characterized by zip codes but all total the government gave out  approximately $29 million in home loans and $58 million in loans overall.
The memorial service ended with the reading of the names of the 14 people who perished in Keystone in the flood. An historical bell from the Keystone Museum was rung between all 14 names.

User login