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50 Years after the Flood

by Dedra Birzer published 2022/06/06 18:48:00 GMT-5
50 Years after the Flood

Come into the Water: A Survivor’s Story, originally released by the SDHS Press in 2012 and recently reprinted, conveys Merlyn Magner’s haunting memories of her experience in the 1972 Black Hills flood, which indelibly shaped the rest of her life. Summer had just begun for the nineteen-year-old college student when  heavy rainfall hit the central Black Hills on June 9. The water levels in the normally peaceful creeks rose quickly that evening. The absence of wind that evening meant that the clouds remained in place over Rapid City and the surrounding area, dumping up to seventeen inches of rain in the canyons that fed Rapid Creek. Flood damage covered an area six miles long and six blocks wide. This week we commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the devastating flood that took 238 lives.

As she relates in her book, the flood turned every aspect of Magner’s life upside down. The deluge swept her parents and her brother away to their deaths. She, too, was carried off by raging flood waters and nearly died before she crashed into a rooftop that she was able to hang onto through the night until help arrived the next day. Magner’s sole remaining immediate family member was her brother, who was a soldier in Vietnam at the time. Together with their grandmother, Magner and her brother buried their dead. But the flood continued to take its toll on Merlyn Magner for the remainder of her life.

The flood’s aftermath brought out the thoughtless and the corrupt, who preyed on the young woman, taking advantage of her shell-shocked mind. Looters—some of them trusted friends and neighbors–vandalized what remained of her home, openly using found objects such as her mother’s mason jars and favorite purse. Magner lived in a FEMA trailer for a few months but found it unable to withstand wintry winds. She left South Dakota for California, where she spent much of the rest of her life, trying to survive the overwhelming pain of the loss she suffered.

Come into the Water provides a gritty account not only of the awful details of the 1972 flood, but of the traumatic aftermath. Survivors like Merlyn Magner dealt with at times paralyzing trauma as they came to terms with their profound losses and constructed new lives. This fiftieth anniversary reminds us to mourn the dead, but to honor the survivors as well.

To order Come into the Water: A Survivor’s Story in paperback or as an e-book, visit sdhspress.com.

—Dedra Birzer