It's been twenty years since the Great Flood of '93 swelled the Missouri River to record-high crests. Since then, levees have been upgraded, flood preparations improved, and in a few places, communities bought out and relocated. St. Louis Public Radio's Marshall Griffin visited some sites along the river in central Missouri and talked to people who battled the flood waters in 1993, and who still keep an eye on the river today:
Flooding damages north Jefferson City & triggers buyout of Cedar City
The Missouri River flooded homes, businesses and highways across the Show-Me State’s midsection during the summer of '93. On July 30th, the river crested at more than 15 feet above flood stage at Jefferson City. Flood waters stripped chunks of concrete from the Highway 54/63 interchange on the north side of the river, and water nearly reached the ceiling inside Jefferson City's airport. Jud Kneuvean has worked for the Army Corps of Engineers for more than 20 years, and was here for the '93 flood. He says the tiny community of Cedar City, which had merged with Jeff City four years before the flood, was completely submerged.
"Cedar City, following the flood, FEMA came in and bought out the community…so what we see over there, the streets and stuff are remnants of 1993, and the few homes that exist were people that didn't sell their homes…but for the most part that community is gone."
Cedar City now mostly consists of parks and businesses. Those companies, and the few homes that are still occupied, have to comply with flood plain regulations.
Rhineland, Mo., moves out of the floodplain after '93 flood
Another community further down the Missouri river also had to move. The unincorporated village of Rhineland was deluged three times during the summer of '93, which led residents there to accept a FEMA buyout. Steve Wehrle is Rhineland's Chairman of the Board, but back then, he owned the local restaurant and tavern.
"It put us out of business for probably a month…we also had...our house was down there (in the flood plain), too, and it had three (feet) of water in it, too."
Most of Rhineland was moved to a bluff overlooking the old town site. Wehrle says he had his house moved uphill, as did several other residents, while some built new homes on the bluff. Some parts of Rhineland are still in the flood plain, including a ballpark, a few businesses and the Volunteer Fire Department.
The levee that guarded the village failed in 1993. It’s since been rebuilt and redesigned to prevent breaches and limit where overtopping can occur. John Noltensmeyer serves as head of both the Rhineland Volunteer Fire Department and the Tri-County Levee District.
"It's designed now to overtop on what we call the lower end of the district, and fill in backwards, so that we’ve got just a big 7,000-acre standing pool of water rather than a piece of the channel, the Missouri River, coming through."
Interest in federal levee fizzles in Jefferson City
The levees across from Jefferson City were also rebuilt, but to the same 30-foot height that they were during the '93 flood. Jud Kneuvean with the Corps of Engineers says at the time there were serious discussions about building a federal levee that would have been 38 feet high, but that city officials lost interest:
"Once you kinda get everything back to normal, and you get the highways back to normal and things seem to be moving in a productive manner, the interest, and looking towards the future, kind of falls off…that's not a dig on anyone, that’s just the way it works."
In response, Jefferson City Administrator Nathan Nickolaus says the federal buyout of old Cedar City largely dampened any desire by city officials to help foot the bill for a federal levee.
Cooperation following the '93 flood
Meanwhile, Kneuvean says the Corps of Engineers has worked harder over the past 20 years to improve cooperation with other agencies. That includes providing up-to-date flood data to the National Weather Service.
"It's important for them to know if a levee overtopped and failed, because that affects their forecast on the river," Kneuvean said.
Kneuvean also says the Corps puts more emphasis on flood prep by conducting a spring flood assessment every January. He adds that they've also worked harder to offer assistance and training to state and local officials in Missouri.
Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter: @MarshallGReport