Letter to the Editor

Rapid City flood memories

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Dear Editor,

Really appreciated (Walt Sehnert's) column on the Rapid City Flood, you see, I had just finished my second year of college in Rapid City and had kept my part time job, which went full time for the summer tourist season, and had planned to thoroughly explore the Black Hills that summer. The night of the flood I clocked out of work at Hi Hat Laundry and Dry Cleaner at 8:10 p.m. and drove to Black Hawk to deliver a radio to a former co- worker who had forgotten it on her last day of work.

When I crossed the Black Hawk bridge I was a bit unnerved as the water seemed to be right at window level; when I arrived at my friend's place visited a while then at 9 p.m. headed back to Rapid City but decided to take the freeway route.

Listened to a disc jockey broadcasting from Bakken Park Shopping Center which was on the banks of Rapid Creek -- believe he survived, but do recall when he realized his live broadcast was about to cease that night.

The next few days were surreal. Volunteered to help clean mud out of the first two or three floors of a local hospital which was on the banks of Rapid Creek.

I only volunteered for a day or two, as I was called into work at Hi Hat Laundry and Dry Cleaners, which was on West Main Street right across the road from the National Guard Camp. One of the most fortunate coincidences regarding the flood was that the Guard had actually gathered the evening of the flood as they were planning to have a summer camp/manuevers starting the morning after the flood. The Guard wanted their clothes cleaned, and as a result Hi Hat was one of the first businesses back in business after the flood. Worked from 6 a.m. to 12 a.m. for something like six weeks cleaning Guardsmans' laundry and that of individuals and businesses trying to salvage whatever they could.

The water was not safe to drink for something like two or three weeks and we relied on water trucked in by the government and distributed at various locations around the city -- initially it had a nasty taste to it, but when one was thirsty, it began to taste a lot better.

My favorite story from the flood concerned three young children who had been sent up the alley behind their house to the top of the hill. The two older children each held a hand of the youngest as they ran up the middle of the alley.

When the children were brought into a shelter (they had been separated from their parents) the youngest child was covered in mud from head to foot. After some questioning it appeared that the force of the flood waters had lifted the manhole covers off and the youngest child had fallen into the underground access but evidently, just at the right time, another surge of water lifted the child back up. And the parents did survive.

When all was said and done, after reading (newspaper reports) I went back and verified what time I clocked out of work that night and what time I had left Marie's place for you see, the estimated time for the Black Hawk bridge washing completely out was 8 p.m., for the freeway bridge it was 9 p.m. that night. Have always heard God looks out for fools and children!

Mike Sahm,

via e-mail

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