“The Teton Dam has burst! Get out for your lives!” The speaker on top of a car blared this message up and down each street on a beautiful, quiet, June morning.
Almost all the children in the Rexburg, Idaho, area are Mormons, and they knew what to do—they looked to their parents for instruction. Most families had a brief prayer.
Some people had to get into cars immediately and drive to higher ground. Others had a few minutes to get precious things like church records or baby brother’s teddy bear.
Eight days after the disaster, President Kimball and Elder Boyd K. Packer talked to the parents and children and gave them hope and encouragement.
During the day, the children could not go with their parents to clean up the messes left by the flood. The mud that was in their houses was full of germs. There were sharp pointed boards and broken glass everywhere.
The children painted a big rainbow to brighten the childcare center. Although the days were long while their parents cleaned, things seemed brighter.
Many of the older children tended the younger boys and girls. They read stories, played games, and did other activities with them.
The children had faith. They knew everything would be all right!
June 5, 1976, began early for the Ashcraft family in Wilford, Idaho. It was Wayne’s twelfth birthday, and it turned out to be an unexpectedly eventful Saturday for him and thousands of people in and around Rexburg, Idaho. By evening of that same day the Ashcrafts had lost their new three-month-old home, and their land and farm equipment were ruined when later that morning the Teton Dam broke, spreading disaster throughout the valley. But the Ashcraft family was safe.
Sister Ashcraft, Cara Lynn (4) and Greg (2) were in Salt Lake City, visiting relatives.
Meanwhile in Wilford, sprinkler pipes for irrigating had to be moved and ditches dug that day so Ronald (13), Wayne (12), Kaleen (11), Cynthia (10), and Renee (9) helped.
The girls had never moved pipe before. “I really didn’t want to help,” Kaleen admitted. “I wanted to go to a Primary activity instead. But Dad came and got us up, and by nine o’clock we’d moved all the pipes and were digging ditches.”
“Dad had told me to take a shovel and clean out a ditch, and I was just taking my time,” Wayne shyly admitted. “I figured I’d be through before Dad got back to the pickup. He had to check the water and everything first.
“Later when I was done, I met Dad and we got on the tractor and headed toward the road.
“Our neighbor, Roger Weber, was out in the field chasing his horses. He started shouting something, and Dad shut the tractor off so we could hear. Roger told us the dam was breaking.”
“We thought we had about an hour,” Ronald added, “so I took the tractor down to the other end of the field. Then we all got in the pickup and headed home.
“We were about a mile from our house when another neighbor said we couldn’t go any farther. Dad said, ‘Oh, surely I can make it home.’
“Our neighbor said, ‘You’d be foolish to try.’ But Dad wanted to try anyway.
“We went about a quarter mile and just around the corner we saw Virgil Wad’s spud pit go. Turning the pickup around, we saw Dean Dawes’ place being covered by the water. We headed next for Bischoff’s spud pit, then decided to go for higher ground.
“We started for the hill on one side of the valley, but the water began coming, so we went to the other side. We had to hurry because the road was in the valley.”
From that hill the Ashcraft family watched the water go around them and then hit their home. Stunned by what they were seeing, Wayne suggested that he and his brother and sisters go off by themselves to pray. Cynthia said, “I got in the back of the pickup, knelt down by a tire, and prayed. After that I thought, Everything’s going to be OK. The water will start to go down.”
But it didn’t.
Just then some airplanes flew over the area. One of the planes spotted the families below stranded on the hill. The pilot flew back to the airport in St. Anthony and returned in a military plane that landed in a grainfield. The Ashcrafts and others climbed aboard and were taken to St. Anthony.
The Ashcraft family lost their home and all of their earthly possessions except a little football belonging to Greg that they found downstream from their home several miles. But today they are happy they are alive and together and are thankful for all the help they have received.
The people of the Idaho flood area feel blessed. The Church through its welfare program has provided them with food, clothing, and shelter. Church members have opened up their homes and their hearts to the stricken families.
The Ashcrafts plan to return to their once fertile land, now covered by many feet of sand and gravel. There they will live in two trailer houses until they can build a new home.
This family will always remember one important lesson—to follow the promptings of the Holy Ghost. When Cynthia asked her father why he insisted on taking them with him that Saturday morning, he said he had a feeling that he should take them.
And Cynthia understood!
Steven (8) and Douglas (11) Brown, and Kevin (8) and Kimball (11) Galbraith were neighbors in Sugar City, Idaho. On Saturday, June 5, 1976, they were planning to go fishing at their secret spot on the Teton River after Steven and Douglas had finished mowing their lawn.
Ordinarily the boys used a power mower but for some reason that day they used the hand mower even though it took longer. Word about the dam breaking came before they finished the lawn.
Doug said, “If we had used the power mower we’d have been at the Teton River and Dad doesn’t think that he could have gotten us out and we probably would have drowned.”
Twelve-year-old Paul Packer, who also lives in Sugar City, had planned a bike ride to the river while his parents were shopping but something interfered. “If my ride hadn’t been delayed,” he said, “I wouldn’t have gotten out of there. My two sisters would have gone with the neighbors without me.”
One month later Steven, Douglas, Kevin, Kimball, and Paul went back to see their homes. (see photographs)—
Jodi Carlson (10) and Shaun Orr (7) hurried to Jodi’s grandparents’ grocery store in downtown Rexburg to warn them of the coming flood. Jodi’s grandparents decided the store would be the safest place for them during the flood. They went upstairs to the office and watched the flood enter and submerge the ground floor of the store. Within four hours the water was as high as the fifth step below the office door.
“The back wall had holes in it,” Shaun explained later, “and started to break. The water hit the door, broke the lock, and pushed the door over to the wall. A tractor and a cow washed in and lodged under the office where we were. The cow’s body prevented the office floor from collapsing.”
Four hours later their many prayers were answered when they were rescued by the National Guard.