REXBURG, Idaho (KIFI)- 47 years ago at 2:25 pm flood waters moving at 35 mph hit the city of Rexburg. Thankfully, many of the residents were out and about and could reach safety before then. However, 11 people did lose their lives. To honor the memory of the flood and everyone it affected at 2:25 pm Saturday, June 3rd, 2023 city welcomed people to the Romance Theater where instead of water flooding the room it was the memories of that day.
After a quick movie that played showing the events of the flood and its aftermath, members of the audience got up to share with others the scars that the flood have left. Scars that for many still hurt.
"Those of us who lived through the flood remember that all summer we can hear the helicopters flying out to remember that, remember the helicopters. And they were doing things like picking up the dead animals that were picking up the cars that were flooded and moving them. And who knows what else," said Margaret Bake.
Bake during the time of the flood also had to wait to see her husband. Who at the time was involved in responding to the calls for help, and helping the city and county clean-up efforts. She shared that after the flood hit, the first time she saw him was a couple of days later. "So he could give me a Tetanus shot."
Bake's daughter Marlaine Davis who was 7 during the time of the flood shared how when she first saw her house afterward it wasn't the same. "When we came back, our house was very different. The town was very different, Things were very, very different. And surprisingly, it's very emotional to think about it. And that experience, even though I was so young at the time."
Davis adds, that because her dad and mom took the warnings seriously they were able to reach safety, and bunkered down in a library, which her dad also oversaw. "My sisters and I bedded down on some of the couches in the lounge at the library, and that's where we were spending the night. And I remember being picked up at about 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning by some relatives that were my father's brother's in-laws, and so I did not know them. And they took us four girls and we were shuttled around from relative to relative and did not come back to Rexburg for about six weeks."
Karen Liles shared how as a teacher about 20 years ago in the Sugar City area, the mud from the flood was still in her classroom behind a bulletin board. "I wanted to move the bulletin board from one wall to a different wall. And when they unscrewed the bulletin board and all this flood mud was right behind it on the cinder block and it still smelled. There's just a unique smell to this flood mud."
She added that the flood mud was not only smelly but caused damage to things as well. "I remember that if your fabric got hit by the flood mud, that there were some elements in the flood mud that would disintegrate fabric. And the people, as you saw in the film, were trying to wash out their fabric or their clothing and whatever, and it didn't matter."
Kimmie Dennis was 4 years old when the flood hit and while she remembers it being hard for the adults she says for her it was different. "I guess because I was four years old, I remember the feelings I had and I don't ever remember feeling scared or unsafe."
She shared how she loved to walk in the fields after flooding them for irragation and one of the ways her family kept her from walking in the flood water was memorable. "My mom would tell me there's snakes in the water, which some people say that as the water came through that canyon and washed up the rattlesnakes and of course, they don't like the water and they got washed into the cities and that anyway, so so there were snakes and the chemicals. But that was one of the ways my mom kept us out of the water was telling us there were snakes in it."
Francis Hepler recently moved to the Rexburg area. During the time of the flood she was living in Montana, and she came to learn about how the flood affected the people of Rexburg. "I was shocked. In 1976, I was raising little, little boys. So I didn't I just could not believe it happened. It surprised me."
Hepler adds that the suprise went deeper than jsut what happened,"I was surprised, there were only 11 people that were killed. Everybody else seemed to be helping one another and survived it. But wow, what a devastation? I can't imagine shoveling that mud."
The Museum of Rexburg is still collecting more first hand accounts of the day, and have an online collection of photos that people can see of the flood. The collection will be over 2,000 photos when its all uploaded.
To share your story with the musem you can either email the museum at email@example.com or you can call (208) 359-3063 to share it.
If you want to see the photo collection you can go here.