WOSTER: Newsman remembers the aftermath of the Rapid City floodI arrived on Saturday morning that weekend to cover the flood aftermath for The Associated Press, and the approaching anniversary has been stirring many memories.
By: Terry Woster, The Daily Republic
I’ve been thinking a lot about the Rapid City flood in the last several days as news stories began building toward the 40th anniversary weekend of that tragic 1972 event.
The flood happened over night, June 9-10, with 238 people dead, several thousands of homes destroyed or severely damaged and something like $165 million in damage. I arrived on Saturday morning that weekend to cover the flood aftermath for The Associated Press, and the approaching anniversary has been stirring many memories. It took Tom Lawrence to stir one of the memories that was actually rather uplifting.
Tom, you all know, writes for The Daily Republic. He has been running a series of stories about former Sen. George McGovern and his presidential campaign year of 1972. One evening earlier this week, Lawrence e-mailed me to say he’d run across a story I’d written from the flood. It featured two young people who were welcomed to Rapid City by flash flooding, who lost everything they owned but who were fairly upbeat about their future in the Black Hills community.
As soon as he mentioned the story, I remembered it, although I couldn’t remember the names of the couple (Thomas and Sally Jo Dierks, each 27, from Lakeland, Fla.). They arrived in Rapid City the Friday of the flood, went through the worst disaster imaginable and said the evening I talked with them that they were going to go out and see if anyone needed help cleaning up.
“The people here come first,” Sally Jo told me. “We’re going to live here.”
There’s a photo of them in what looks like the June 13, 1972, edition of The Daily Republic, above their story. I remember that photo being taken. Bruce Stoner, editor of The Daily Republic, was in Rapid City doing some flood-related news work, and he made the picture of me interviewing the couple. In the black-and-white photograph, they sure look young. I do, too, I guess, although I had more hair than the Beatles combined and sideburns longer and thicker than Elvis.
You couldn’t tell it from the photograph, but I’m guessing that was about the fourth day I’d worn the jeans and windbreaker. I was called out in the middle of the night while on a family weekend in Chamberlain and left for the Black Hills with nothing but a shaving kit. For the first several days, there really wasn’t much time for shopping for new clothes, and besides, not many of the people in Rapid had the luxury of new clothes, either, for that first while.
Looking through some old AP files in my upstairs closet, I also found two or three official Civil Defense press passes. They had the Civil Defense logo, printing at the top that said “From the Desk of Harold Irish, Director of Civil Defense,” and then hand-written in ink, “Terry Woster, OK, Pass, Press.”
I found another pass, written on Rapid City Journal stationary, that says, “TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN: This is to certify that Terry Woster, Associated Press Pierre, is in Rapid City on AP business in connection with the flood.” It’s signed by Dave Goldberg. He was assistant bureau chief in Chicago, but he came to Rapid mostly to be a reporter.
I got there first for the AP, but Jim Wilson from the Minneapolis Bureau — a Kimball native and former Daily Republic sports editor — caught the earlier plane he could find and was there by midday Saturday. Goldberg and Dick Ciccione (F. Richard, as he said in his bylines) followed soon after, and sometime that weekend, a guy named Sid Moody, the hottest writer in the AP Newsfeatures stable, appeared. The wire service had two or three photographers on the ground and at least one photo editor.
We depended a great deal on the Rapid City Journal for our phones, teletype connections and local information. (The first day, the Journal couldn’t put out a paper, and Editor Jim Kuehn told his staff, “We’re working for the AP today.” None of the old news folks in AP ever forgot that.)
Forty years later, I still tear up sometimes when I think of driving into town that first morning. I pray I never see anything like it again.