A look back at local, national and world events through Deseret News archives.

The year was 1976, and the United States was preparing for a bicentennial celebration across the country.

But on June 5, 1976, the Teton Dam in southern Idaho failed, leaving a path of devastation in the flood that followed. The small Idaho cities of Teton, Newdale and Sugar City were virtually wiped out. A wall of water wound through the upper Snake River Valley before hitting Rexburg, and later Idaho Falls.

According to archived Deseret News photos and stories, “Tragically, 11 people died along with 13,000 head of livestock. But with more than 100,000 people in the path of the water, it was something of a miracle that more lives weren’t lost. Although Idaho Falls, Idaho, and Blackfoot, Idaho, suffered severe damage, the American Falls reservoir finally contained the flood, ending the disaster.

“Perhaps the real story of the Teton Dam collapse was the remarkable relief efforts that supported the people and business owners whose homes and livelihoods were destroyed. Thousands of volunteers boarded buses in Utah, Idaho and Wyoming to help clean up the flooded areas. It was backbreaking work as they cleared away thousands of tons of contaminated mud and debris in the grueling summer heat. U.S. President Gerald R. Ford gave special praise to the volunteers when declaring the flood zone a disaster area.”

Looking back at the first-person accounts and retrospective coverage, the very personal stories stand out.

From colleague Lois M. Collins, who experienced the disaster alongside many family members:

“But the thing many residents remember best is how the bursting dam brought communities up and down its path together.

“‘The beauty of it all was what it did for people,’” Diana Richman says. “‘In disaster, people do work so beautifully together. Everyone helped, took people in, furnished food to people.’”

Here is a cross-section of archived work from Deseret News photographers and writers:

40th anniversary of the collapse of the Teton Dam

30 years after dam failure, Teton Basin still in limbo””

Pain lingers 25 years after Teton Dam failure

Years after failure, Teton Dam still sparks debate

Rebuilding Teton Dam and original site considered”

Twila Van Leer: When Teton Dam flood took her genealogy

Flood of memories: Teton disaster devastated many lives — but also brought people together”

Businesses in Rexburg, Idaho, were hit hard after the Teton Dam burst, but store owners piled rubble onto sidewalks and streets, then washed off usable items with hoses.
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We were there: See Deseret News front pages from 45 big moments in Utah, world history