Community pulls together in time of need

It was bad last Friday, but it could have been worse.

After the events of last Friday afternoon, we all know what a flash flood warning was all about for the Custer area. Our cell phones all pinged with the warning about mid-afternoon and it was just a few hours later when the water really started spreading out and making its way through Custer starting at West Dam. 

The surreal afternoon began with a torrential rain event estimated at 6-7 inches at the north end of Upper French Creek Road. From there the water started building up and flowing south from the higher elevation through what is called the Upper French Creek Watershed area toward Custer, washing out some roads along the way. It was temporarily slowed down and backed up at West Dam which rapidly filled for the first time in several years. Then it broke loose again and started rushing through town, in essence, cutting off people on the south side of the creek from Highway 16.

Everyone remarked at how quickly the water level rose along French Creek as it overflowed along Washington Street, turning it into a wide river. Campgrounds and homes along French Creek suffered severe damage and several water rescues were conducted by local and area fire departments. Otherwise, people pretty much stayed put and waited for the water to recede, which was the prudent thing to do. Nobody wanted to become part of the problem by trying to do anything foolish.

Standing next to the county emergency services truck late Friday afternoon by the courthouse and listening as director Mike Carter was calmly talking into his state radio in one hand and his cell phone in another, we realized the “go-to guy” was handling the situation as well as anyone could. Carter has been on the job for 24 years so this wasn’t exactly his first baptism by fire. He responded to questions from area law enforcement about traffic control while requesting that the Pennington County Water Rescue Team stand by. Thankfully, that team was not needed.

It is this type of mutual aid cooperation and coordination that makes things work so well in a natural disaster like the flash flood we experienced last Friday afternoon and evening. All area first responders were helping out in one way or another and deserve our thanks. Cooperation was also manifested as neighbor was helping neighbor get through this unprecedented event as cleanup efforts were underway early Saturday morning.

Custer County Sheriff Marty Mechaley said the flood couldn’t have happened at a worse time on the first day of the rally in town. But, when you stop to think about it, we had extra law enforcement in the area because of the rally so help didn’t have to come from very far away. Besides, the rain had cut down on local rally traffic considerably.

It’s going to be a while for us to put things back together again in Custer and Custer County and we will need some help doing it. Efforts are already underway to seek help from state and federal agencies. We should rest assured that the situation was handled as well as it could have been.

We can all be thankful for the trained, professional first responders we have in Custer and Custer County and beyond. We couldn’t get through something like this without their great assistance.

We can also be thankful for so many great community members and organizations that pull together in a time of need. This is what a community is all about and we have a truly outstanding one! Donation jars are already out to help up to 16 families in immediate need of financial assistance. Please be generous and watch for a major community fundraiser set at Custer Beacon, Saturday, Aug. 17.

Carter hit the nail on the head when he summed up events of last Friday afternoon and evening. “At the end of the day, nobody got hurt.” Material things can always be replaced and new homes can be found, but you can’t put a price on human life.

Finally, we thank all those first responders and flood victims for talking with us and sharing their stories so we could pass information and experiences on to you, our readers. We sometimes feel like intruders in situations like this flood, but everyone was gracious and accommodating in answering all of our questions. We had a job to do.

Now let’s all get to work and start putting everything  back together again!


User login