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Museum of Rexburg invites community to fourth annual Teton Dam flood commemoration

This photo shows Shirley’s Drive-in, a popular fast food restaurant in Rexburg at the time of the Teton Dam flood, fully submerged in water. It was completely destroyed. Watch the trailer for the Teton Dam flood documentary in the video above. | Photo courtesy Museum of Rexburg
REXBURG – This time of year brings back a “flood of memories” for those who were around when the Teton Dam broke in 1976. The Museum of Rexburg wants to share some of those recollections with you this weekend.
The museum is hosting its fourth annual Teton Dam Flood Commemoration event at the Romance Theatre at 2 East Main Street. The documentary, “Flood of Memories: Remembering the 1976 Teton Dam Disaster,” features interviews with locals who were impacted by the tragedy. It will be shown at 1 p.m. Saturday, June 1.
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Those in attendance will have a chance to share their memories with the crowd and museum staff will be available to record stories or scan photos from community members.

This photo of the Teton Dam at the moment of failure was taken by Dale Howard. | Courtesy Museum of Rexburg
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This year marks 48 years since the newly constructed Teton Dam collapsed. It happened at 11:57 a.m. on June 5, 1976.
Within minutes, Rexburg and surrounding communities were pummeled with water. Rexburg, Wilford, Sugar City, Roberts, Idaho Falls and Blackfoot were severely impacted.
Though only 11 people died, 15,000 animals were killed and many businesses, homes and tens of thousands of acres of land were damaged or destroyed.

Aerial view of Sugar City under water during the Teton Dam flood | Courtesy Museum of Rexburg
Museum curator Alisha Tietjen tells the total cost in damages was more than $2 million at the time.
“People had canceled their flood insurance because the dam was supposed to stop that,” Tietjen says. “The Bureau of Reclamation took responsibility and the federal government came in and gave retributions (based on individual needs).”
Months of cleanup and repairs followed. Friends and neighbors donated time and resources to help and faith groups across the country came to people’s aid.
It was a time of healing and unity, but no amount of financial compensation fully made up for the loss and the emotional toll it had on people’s lives.
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This view west of Rexburg near the golf course and the airport shows houses hanging over a canal where they were deposited during the flood. | Courtesy Museum of Rexburg

The following year, a local teacher assigned her fourth grade class to write an essay about their experiences during the flood. Many of those essays were donated to the museum in 2019. Tietjen and her team have spent time digitizing and preserving those records.
Tietjen doesn’t recall what school the fourth grade class attended but she shared a few of the kids’ stories with us.
“There was one little girl who said her parents had gone to a rodeo in Salmon to see her sister compete. She was alone when the water came so a neighbor came and got her and took her to Driggs. It was two or three days before she could get a hold of her family because the phone lines were down,” the girl said, according to Tietjen.
Another student said he and his dad were riding their motorcycles to alert neighbors the flood was coming. He drew a picture of him and his dad riding around that day.

One of the student’s flood essays on display at the Museum of Rexburg. | Courtesy Museum of Rexburg
Many other experiences are on display at the Museum of Rexburg and locals share their stories in the documentary. The museum is located at 51 North Center Street.
Saturday’s event is free and open to the public. Tietjen invites the community to attend and share their stories.
“It helps us at the museum to gain more information and record some of those stories,” Tietjen explains.
Those unable to attend can watch the film online. It will also be available at the Museum of Rexburg in the future. Watch a trailer for the film in the player above.
The city is preparing to commemorate the flood’s 50th anniversary in 2026. A committee is in the initial stages of planning a special event for the community.
“We hope to be able to show new photos (and other displays). We’re looking forward to that milestone,” says Tietjen.

The Ricks College football field after the flood. | Courtesy Museum of Rexburg
The post Museum of Rexburg invites community to fourth annual Teton Dam flood commemoration appeared first on East Idaho News.

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