One calm summer day in Rexburg, Idaho, ten-year-old Ronda was cleaning her room.
“Everyone come to the living room! Now!” Dad’s voice was urgent.
Ronda ran. So did her younger sisters and brother, Ranae, Raelin, and Kory.
“The Teton Dam has burst!” * Dad said. “Everyone grab your shoes and socks and hurry to the car!”
The four children raced to their bedrooms. Mom picked up baby Kevin.
Minutes later, they climbed into the car.
“Where are we going?” Ronda asked.
“To the hill,” Dad answered.
“We’ll be safe there,” Mom added.
When they arrived at the hill, Dad parked the car across the street from the Ricks College (Brigham Young University—Idaho) campus. Ronda opened the door. “When will the water get here?”
“I don’t know,” Mom said. “We’ll have to watch and wait.” She climbed out of the car. “But let’s say a prayer first, OK?”
Ronda moved next to her mother. Everyone folded their arms and closed their eyes. They asked Heavenly Father to protect their home and family.
After the prayer, Ronda looked out across the valley. She watched and waited and watched and waited until a tall wave of brown-gray debris-filled water surged into town. Ronda stared at it.
“Ohhhhh!” Mom groaned, fighting back tears.
The wave knocked over trees and turned logs from the lumberyard into battering rams.
Dad’s shoulders slumped. “I had no idea it would be this bad,” he said.
The water plunged through houses, carrying some away. It lifted empty cars and heaved them into buildings. Smash! Splash! Silence.
Finally, Mom looked at Dad. “What should we do?”
“Let’s go to the campus. Maybe someone there will know.”
Waiting for Dad to find out what to do was difficult for Ronda and her brothers and sisters. They were tired and hungry, and they didn’t know when or where they might get food again.
But eventually Dad returned. “Some people were handing out sandwiches,” he said. “Does anyone want one?”
“I do,” Kory said. He held out his hand.
Mom took one, too. She broke a bit of bread off for Kevin. “Have you found out what we should do?”
“The Church is here to help. They own the college, and they will let us live in the empty dorms and eat in the cafeteria while we rebuild.”
“Rebuild? Have we lost everything then?”
Dad looked at the ground. “I don’t know yet,” he said.
The next day, Dad went into town to check on their home. Ronda and the rest of her family were waiting for him when he returned. “Our house is still standing,” he told them, “but we have a lot of work ahead of us. Everything inside is gone or destroyed.”
“Everything? Our beds? Toys?” Ronda pictured their living room. “What about the piano?”
Mom started to cry. “And the food storage?”
“The basement is filled with water,” Dad said. “I won’t know until we get it pumped out.”
“Can we see our house?” Ranae asked.
“Not now. There are sharp objects and broken glass everywhere.”
“You children will have to stay here on campus with me,” Mom added.
Ronda knelt next to Kevin. “For how long?”
“Until I can make our house safe again,” Dad answered.
Safe again. Ronda rubbed at a smudge on the front of her shirt—the shirt she’d put on yesterday morning. Would she ever really feel safe again?
Just as Dad had said, the following days were filled with work. Dad pumped water out of their basement, shoveled mud from every room, and hauled out truckloads of rubble. Mom, Ronda, and her brothers and sisters stood in long distribution lines, searched through piles of charitable donations, and tried to clean smelly, slimy mud from the few belongings Dad was able to salvage. They were all very, very tired.
When the second Sunday after the disaster came, Ronda was glad. That day the work stopped, and her family attended a special conference in the college gymnasium. The prophet, President Spencer W. Kimball, had come to speak to them.
Ronda shifted anxiously in her seat. There were so many people—thousands of them! Were they all flood victims?
Suddenly, a hush fell over the congregation. Ronda looked toward the stage. President Kimball had entered the room.
The prophet’s words stuck in her mind. First, he reminded them of how blessed they were that the flood had happened in daytime. Then, President Kimball said they must be strong through the long and difficult days ahead. They must be like the pioneers.
Like the pioneers. Ronda pictured the pioneers in her mind. They had trudged through mounds of mud. They had lived in wagons for several months. They had relied on each other for everything.
Ronda sat up taller as a feeling of peace and strength filled her heart. The prophet was right! They could be like the pioneers! And like those who had settled the Salt Lake Valley so long ago, she knew they could make their own valley safe and right again.
On June 5, 1976, the earthen walls of the Teton Dam gave way, releasing some 80 billion gallons of water. The downstream flooding took 11 lives, destroyed about 3,000 homes, and caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage.