On June 5th, 1976 a dam on the Teton River in southeast Idaho broke, and sent a wall of water to the valley below. My home was one of many that was destroyed by this disaster. I was 10 years old. My family was coming home from a camping trip when we heard the news. My sister wanted to listen to the radio so we turned it on. Instead of mid-seventies pop music we heard that our town was under several feet of water.
Fortunately we had a set of grandparents who lived in Blackfoot, Idaho, which we hoped was far enough south to not get hit. We would stay there for a few days until other arrangements could be made. For a time we stayed with some friends of my parents who lived on the ‘hill’ in Rexburg. They had some basement apartments that were used during the school year for Ricks College students, and we stayed there. During this time I was amazed at how calm my parents seemed. I do not know how they did it.
On one of the first days we were back in Rexburg, my parents left us at the Clark building on Campus. There was some kind of child care available there. We did not know how long we would be there. I remember my younger brother, who was four at the time, got a little scared. We climbed to the top of the slippery slide, and from there we could see the road that lead to the building. When my parents would come, they would use that road. We waited there for hours, letting other kids pass by to use the slide. I would pat by brothers shoulder, and tell him it was all right. ‘Mom and Dad will come back’, I would say to him. Inwardly I would say, ‘Please come back Mom and Dad’.
We lost nearly everything. Our house, our clothes, our food storage, our photographs, important records, everything. One day it was all there, the next it was all gone. In time, there was government reimbursement, but we did not know that at the time. I have become quite a worrier in life, and I often fear catastrophes in my personal life. I often wonder if experiencing this flood as an impressionable ten year old may have contributed to this. My mom was concerned when she saw my friends and I making dams out of the flood mud, and constructing little towns below – only to have them wiped out by breaking the dam. Perhaps she was right to be concerned.
Another thing I experienced was how important the church was. After the flood waters were gone, people went to their stake centers for help. Many busses came full of people with shovels and wheelbarrows who were there to help people dig out and salvage whatever they could. There was other help at the stake centers also. You could go there for a simple meal, or a can of pop. The facilities of Ricks College were also available and helped feed a lot of people. The dorms were open to many people in the community also. What a blessing it was to have this help!
I believe this was one of the first times the church mobilized with this type of disaster relief in modern times. I saw first hand how the church could be a good and important safety net. It is good to be close to the church. We lived next door to our stake center, and I drank a lot of sprite and grape nehi for a few days. What a comfort that was.
I am grateful that there was not more loss of life in this disaster, and that it happened in the daytime with a few hours of warning. I am also grateful for the relief efforts that were made so long ago. In time homes, businesses, schools, etc., were rebuilt, and life eventually became normal again. But in some ways, I still think I feel some effects from the flood.