Former Rapid City Mayor Don Barnett recalls the 1972 Black Hills Flood

The Early evening news on KOTA Territory TV
Published: Jun. 10, 2022 at 6:30 PM CDT
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KOTA) -Former Mayor Don Barnett recalled his time as mayor during the 1972 Black Hills flood at the Journey Museum on Friday.

He served as mayor of Rapid City between 1971 and 1975 and at the time of the flood, he was only 29 years old. He recalled his time served in the Vietnam War and how he was able to save all of his comrades, but when it came to the Black Hills Flood … he was not so lucky.

Barnett stated “I was asked this morning, what was in your mind at dawn, and I said sorrow was in my mind. I went to Vietnam and served my country for a year in a half…I commanded 280 men and I brought everyone home. I did not pull that off as mayor of rapid city.”

He felt that he had a massive responsibility at the time of the flood, but knew that he had to accomplish one goal … save as many lives as possible.

He stated “It begins to dawn on me about this massive responsibility…that someone had to be strong and firm and well-motivated mayor. Exercise what leadership he could with the ten most wonderful men and women in Rapid City, on the chamber of commerce. We just bid into that warning and started our recovery.”

Barnett says that the day after the flood ... Rapid City had a heavy fog that he named the “Fog of death.” Piles of trash, gravel, and limbs were found in areas around the Black Hills during the aftermath clean-up.

During his time as mayor, more than 900 homes were built for families that lost everything during the flood, along with money sent from more than 17 foreign countries to assist in recovery.

He says that the lesson future generations should learn is to keep buildings from being built near the creek in the floodway because history can repeat itself.

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