Flood of 1993 | St. Louis Public Radio

Flood of 1993

Road crews work to clear the remaining sediment and rocks deposited from flood waters on July 2, 2019. Businesses in the area have reopened since the water receded.
Eric Schmid | St. Louis Public Radio

The Fourth of July will be even more of a celebration in Alton and Grafton this year, as the riverfront communities mark the reopening of businesses following major flooding last month.

The Mississippi River, seen in this June 7 photo, has overflowed its usual banks of East St. Louis near Malcolm W. Martin Memorial Park.
Mary Delach Leonard | St. Louis Public Radio

With the Mississippi River at its second-highest level in history, Metro East Sanitary District Executive Director Steve Adler has three worries.

The first is people. The second is more rain. The third thing is the most sinister and potentially catastrophic, he said. It’s an earthquake.

Adler tells people who live behind the levees that when the river is above 30 feet, if they feel the ground shake, leave.

“Grab the kids. Grab the dog. Get in your car and drive up to the bluffs,” Adler said.

A tree along Leonor K Sullivan Blvd. is surrounded by rising water as the Mississippi River reaches a near-record height.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 1:30 p.m., June 6 with revised river crest forecast from the National Weather Service — The Mississippi River at St. Louis is expected to crest at 45.8 feet by Saturday afternoon. 

A group of tourists posed for a selfie under the Gateway Arch midday Wednesday, while just a few feet away, murky floodwaters from the Mississippi crept up the riverfront steps.

Flooding has continued unabated for more than 80 days along rivers in the St. Louis area. Most major waterways, including the Mississippi, Missouri and Illinois rivers, are expected to crest Friday — with peak floodwaters in some regions rivaling records set in 1993.

Colin Wellenkamp (L) and Rick Eberlin (R) joined host Don Marsh to discuss flooding along the Mississippi River.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

Remembrances of the Great Flood of ’93 often focus on St. Louis, but many other cities and towns along the Mississippi River faced consequences.

On Monday’s St. Louis on the Air, the mayors of Grafton, Illinois, and Ste. Genevieve, Missouri, joined host Don Marsh to talk about what their communities are doing 25 years after the big event. Their stories represent differences in the way cities have coped with the threat of flooding.

A community chorus rehearses for a performance of "The Flood," a concert musical about the effect of the Great Flood of '93 on the village of Valmeyer. July, 2018.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

A community chorus stood shoulder to shoulder, 30 members strong, on the sanctuary steps of St. John United Church of Christ in Valmeyer, Illinois, on a recent Monday evening. Sopranos, altos, baritones — their voices blended as one — rising and falling with lyrics inspired by the Great Flood of '93.

The words weigh heavily on those in the group who experienced firsthand the Valmeyer flood. They remember as if it were yesterday, that steamy, chaotic summer spent shoveling sand into thousands of bags and heaving them onto earthen levees that had protected their little town for half a century.

This time, the Mississippi River won.

Michael Bauermeister works on a piece in his studio in early July. July, 2018.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Along Augusta Bottom Road, in rural St. Charles County, sits the town of Nona. A century-old general store is about all that’s left, and Michael Bauermeister, its owner.

More than three decades ago Bauermeister converted the building into his woodshop. He and his wife, Gloria, brought their two young sons here in 1987. Michael set up the shop on the main floor, and he and his family lived in the 900-square foot apartment above.

U.S. Geological Survey hydrologists Bob Holmes (right) and Rick Huizinga (left) perform an experiment on a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers barge at St. Louis on Aug. 4, 1993. Aug. 4, 1993.
Photo provided by Bob Holmes

Nearly every day in the summer of 1993, U.S. Geological Survey hydrologist Bob Holmes braved the high, tumultuous waters of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers to take measurements for river forecasts. Holmes will never forget how, in Cape Girardeau, he had to rescue electronic instruments used for calculating flow measurements.

Holmes and his crew needed to reach a shelter house built above the Mississippi River, which required climbing over a floodwall and wading through 3 feet water across the top of a catwalk. As they worked, Cape Girardeau firefighters watched them in case they needed to be rescued.

Floodwaters climb up the steps in front of the Gateway Arch during the Great Flood of 1993.
Bill Greenblatt | UPI

On Aug. 1, 1993, the Mississippi River crested at 49.58 feet in St. Louis, nearly 20 feet above flood stage, breaking previous records. At the flood’s peak, more than a million cubic feet of water passed the Gateway Arch each second.

In west St. Louis County, the entire Chesterfield valley, then known as Gumbo Flats, was under water as the Missouri River overflowed its levees. On the east side of the Mississippi, the entire town of Valmeyer, Illinois, was destroyed, and rather than rebuilding, the citizens moved to a new location.

As a result of the Great Flood of ’93, residents were evacuated, homes and businesses were lost, and people all over the region joined in the sandbagging efforts to prevent further devastation.

During the Great Flood of 1993, the Mississippi River climbed half-way up the grand staircase of the Gateway Arch to its highest level recorded in the city of St. Louis.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

Twenty-five years ago, on Aug. 1, 1993, the Mississippi River crested in the city of St. Louis at the highest level ever recorded — 49.58 feet. By the time the water retreated, the Mississippi and Missouri rivers had topped or burst levees in nine states, killed 50 people and caused $15 billion in damage. Residents can still feel the impact of the watershed disaster a quarter of a century later.

I-55 and westbound I-44 reopen as floodwaters recede

May 4, 2017
Waters continue to rise around I-55 near Butler Hill on Wednesday morning. May 2017
File Photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated May 4 at 7 p.m. with information about West Alton — Officials with the Rivers Pointe Fire Protection District are urging residents east of Highway 67 in West Alton who plan to evacuate, particularly those who are elderly or have a disability, to do so immediately. Those planning to ride out the flooding, officials said in a Facebook post, should secure provisions.

Family, friends and volunteers from St. Louis help Arnold, Mo. residents combat area flooding
Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

Patty Titus, 57, stood at the edge of the Meramec River in Arnold as it ran up the side of her house and poured into her basement. It’s the house she grew up in, and she’s lived there for more than 50 years. As Titus watched the water rise, she listed the family heirlooms she’s lost.

“All my parents stuff, dishes, furniture, lost my freezer, my refrigerator, things that can’t be replaced. A lot of memories and things,” she said.

(UPI/Bill Greenblatt)

In the summer of 1993, flood waters from the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers broke levee after levee in the St. Louis region, covering large swathes of land, destroying property, disrupting lives and creating hazardous conditions.


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

(Courtesy of the Post-Dispatch, photo by Renyold Ferguson)

Twenty years ago, the flood of 1993 changed lives up and down the Mississippi and Missouri rivers.

Fifty-five thousand homes and 33,000 businesses were destroyed. Fifty people were killed. Damages totaled in the billions.

But in the midst of the devastation, there were moments of joy, too.

For two former soldiers in the Missouri National Guard, the flood of 1993 marked the start of their lives, together.

This is their story

Development in Chesterfield Valley since the flood: Blue structures existed before the flood; yellow structures were built after the flood.
Base: USGS, Info: City of Chesterfield

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 7, 2013: During the early days of the 1993 disaster that left businesses, homes and farmland awash on 4,000 flooded acres of the Chesterfield Valley, the possibility of rebuilding always seemed not a question of "if" but of "when."

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

Aug 6, 2013
(UPI/Bill Greenblatt)

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.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 5, 2013 - Twenty years after the Great Flood of ’93, Susan Schillinger remains firmly planted on the Mississippi River floodplain, still living in her repaired two-story white frame house, one of the remaining structures of "old town” Valmeyer.

Schillinger’s cheerful front porch, trimmed for summer in red geraniums and Fourth of July ribbons, was under water on Aug. 2, 1993, along with 95 percent of the village’s more than 350 homes, businesses and public buildings after a breached levee allowed the river to flow through.

A view of the floodplain from Valmeyer's Rock City development.
Mary Delach Leonard | St. Louis Beacon | 2013

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 1, 2013: Dennis Knobloch, then the mayor of Valmeyer, said he didn’t grasp the magnitude of the flooding that had engulfed his village in those first days of August 1993 until he and Monroe County officials surveyed the scene by helicopter.

"It was like flying over an ocean,’’ he said. "It was water from the Illinois bluff to the Missouri bluff, which is 4 miles apart here. It is hard to comprehend.’’

This article originally appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 30, 2013: Most springs, nature sends a reminder to the residents of the St. Louis region that they live at the confluence of the Mississippi and the Missouri, two major American rivers that have the potential to rise up and storm the levees.

Dennis Knobloch stands in the field where his house was before the flood of 1993.
Mary Delach Leonard | St. Louis Beacon | 2013

This article originally appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 30, 2013: Lush, green soybeans now populate the plot of good earth where Dennis Knobloch’s house once stood on Main Street in Valmeyer, Ill. -- before the Mississippi River busted through a levee and swallowed the town whole during the Great Flood of ’93.

This article originally appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 29, 2013: WASHINGTON — "An enormous ditch ... running liquid mud" is how novelist Charles Dickens described the mighty Mississippi River after his brief visit to St. Louis in the 1840s.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 25, 2013: When bleary-eyed David R. Busse plugged the latest river levels and rain forecasts into his hydrology calculations in mid-July 1993, he came to a startling conclusion: The floodwaters surging down the Mississippi and the Missouri rivers would converge in St. Louis at the highest level ever recorded.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 19, 2011 - WASHINGTON - In the wake of this summer's severe flooding, members of Congress from Missouri have been mounting what appears to be a systematic effort to slash studies and efforts that aim to restore the ecosystems along the now-swollen Missouri River -- even though many analysts feel that such restoration can help lessen future flooding.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: August 19, 2008 - The Great Flood of 1993 was a "200-year" flood at St. Louis and a "500-year" flood at many places upstream, according to the Army Corps of Engineers (2004) flow-frequency study. Incredibly, not quite 15 years later, the Great Flood of 2008 was another "200" or "500" year flood in northeast Missouri and set all-time record stages in southern Iowa.

Analysis: Don't rebuild on the floodplain

Jul 21, 2008
Photo by Robert Criss

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: July 21, 2008 - According to George Bernard Shaw, "We are made wise not by the recollection of our past, but by the responsibility for our future."

How can we apply this wisdom to the flooding challenges in St. Louis area? The Great Flood of 1993 - deemed the most destructive flood in recorded history - caused nearly $16 billion in damage. Yet, the St. Louis area is in the forefront of floodplain development, with half of it occurring on floodplains that were under water in 1993.