4:30 pm
Tue August 6, 2013

20 Years Later: Sounds And Stories Of The Great Flood Of 1993

In what has become known in the St. Louis region as "The Great Flood of 1993," 20 years ago places where floodwaters had never been suddenly were underwater.  

From our archives, we offer an opportunity to go back in time with 10 stories of the rise of water, tension and even an entire town.

For some, these stories may be difficult to hear again and, for others, they will be reminders of triumph and renewal.

We welcome you to share your experiences of the flood in the comments below, on our Facebook page or with us via Twitter.

Go there again....dispatches from 1993
A week into the flood – before the two rivers crested, NPR’s Kathy Lohr offers the view from St. Charles, Mo. 7,000 people had already been evacuated and authorities were advising even the last resident holdouts that “it’s time to get out.” But – some would take even more convincing to leave. A woman dubbed the “Queen of the River” said the rising water wasn’t a hassle but “just nature at the door.”
NPR’s Kathy Lohr reports after the Missouri River spilled over the levee and began to meet the flooded Mississippi River about 10 miles north of St. Charles. At this point, 40 percent of the land in St. Charles Co. was underwater and the Missouri River was at 12 feet above flood stage. A break in the levee had begun to send water into areas of St. Louis County.
Another report and another levee break from the Missouri River. Residents of Portage Des Sioux in St. Charles County were experiencing a “battle of will…” against the river in their flooded town. NPR’s Kathy Lohr took a tour of Portage Des Sioux by the only method available at the time – a boat.
At this point, Missouri River levels were still more than 18 feet above flood stage, even though both rivers were on the way down. NPR’s Kathy Lohr reported on how the flooding impacted “every St. Louis city resident.” After a levee broke and covered Highway 40, there was a 10 mile backup on Interstate 70, then the only remaining way over the Missouri River. Meanwhile, propane tanks were floating in the Mississippi River in South St. Louis City, and two had exploded. 2,500 residents in the city and 9,000 in St. Louis County were evacuated as a precaution.
Two months after flooding in the region began, Valmeyer, Ill. had turned into a swampy ghost town. All the clocks were stopped at the “bewitching time of 1:20,” when the town’s mayor ordered the power to be shut off. If Valmyer wanted to exist, most of it would have to move. The biggest obstacles were getting residents to stick around and figure out what to do next. Would the flood be another chapter in village history? Or the end of Valmeyer? NPR’s Kathy Lohr filed this report.
How did 10 years change things? The view from 2003

St. Louis Public Radio's Bill Raack gave a 2003 overview of what happened in 1993, why it happened and what it was like for those who lived and worked through the disaster.

One of the hardest hit communities during the Flood of 1993 was Valmeyer, Ill. 30 miles south of St. Louis. When rising tide topped an upstream levee, 90 percent of Valmeyer's buildings were destroyed. But though down, Valmeyer was certainly not out. Residents soon began a three-year effort to build a new Valmeyer on a bluff overlooking the floodplain. Kevin Lavery reported on how one Illinois town turned devastation into determination.

Away from cities and towns, fields of grain were the primary casualties of the Great Flood. As of 2003, 1993 was one of the worst years in living memory for Midwestern farmers. But even though they experienced major headaches from the flood, most cleaned up and got back to work. St. Louis Public Radio's Matt Sepic prepared this report.

Since the flood, experts and government officials worked to better prepare for the next such event. From buying houses in flood plains to better forecasting weather, almost every aspect of managing a flood was different in 2003 than it was 10 years earlier. St. Louis Public Radio's Tom Weber reported on how predicting and managing floods changed and why not everyone thought the experts had the answers.

Some of the most indelible images of the 1993 flood occurred as the Missouri River transformed the Chesterfield Valley into a lake. The area has since become the site of a very large strip mall and shopping district. In 2003, proponents said such growth was necessary for the region’s tax base. Opponents feared another flooding disaster. St. Louis Public Radio's Hillary Wicai reported that where floodwaters once raged, development boomed.