Great Flood of '93 | St. Louis Public Radio

Great Flood of '93

Trees along Leonor K Sullivan Boulevard are seen surrounded by rising water on Tuesday as the Mississippi River reaches a near-record height.
File Photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Andrea Mcmanus and her three children had lived in their apartment in Grafton for less than six months before they evacuated to escape the rising Mississippi River floodwaters.

They left on March 22, as the flood overtook Grafton and began rising downstream in St. Louis. The Mississippi has been above flood stage at St. Louis for more than 80 days and last weekend surpassed the 1973 level, the second highest on record.

Many residents, government officials and scientists compare it to the Great Flood of 1993, when the river crested at 49.6 feet, the highest flood on record for the St. Louis region. Some residents worry that it could surpass that height.

The main levee in Winfield failed May 4, 2019, near the Pillsbury grain elevator on Pillsbury Road.
File Photo | Winfield Foley Fire Protection District

Updated at 4 p.m., June 3 with comments from the Army Corps’ St. Louis District office — Floods continue to plague towns located near rivers in Missouri and Illinois. Some rivers crested this weekend in the St. Louis region, causing levee breaches, forcing evacuations and approaching the record flood levels set during the Great Flood of ’93.

A levee along the Missouri banks of the Mississippi River breached Sunday in Lincoln County near Winfield, about an hour northwest of St. Louis.

May 29, 2019 Workers shore up a temporary levee across Main Street in Grafton. The river had reached 32 feet, on its way to a projected crest of 36.3 feet, which would be the second highest on record and less than two feet below the record set in 1993.
Brent Jones | St. Louis Public Radio

Towns along the Mississippi, Missouri and Illinois rivers have closed levees, evacuated downtowns and started sandbagging to hold rising floodwaters at bay. Weather experts say the communities will see some of the highest flood levels recorded since the Great Flood of '93.

Despite the flooding, some Missouri and Illinois towns remain open along the river — and their mayors said they hope tourism and community support will help their towns recover from the disasters.

The Great Flood of '93 swept blankets of sand onto a Missouri River flood plain near Berger, Missouri.
Provided by Bob Holmes

Scientists who have studied the historic 1993 flood agree that a similar event could strike the St. Louis region again. But they disagree on how likely it could occur.

Andrew Hurley is the historian for the five-year project “The Missouri Transect: Climate, Plants and the Community.”
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

The Great Flood of ’93 took a severe toll on St. Louis as an unprecedented weather phenomenon. But St. Louis is no stranger to floods, tornadoes, heat waves, ice storms and more.

Amid dealing with the effects of these events, St. Louisans should be aware that climate change has the potential to increase the frequency of them as well.

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.

LaShana Lewis poses for a portrait outside her old home in East St. Louis. Lewis initially didn't realize the extent of the flood's damage because her neighborhood often flooded during heavy rains.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

For people who were children and teenagers during the Great Flood of 1993, memories come like the river did then — murky, and in waves.

As the 25th anniversary approached, we asked followers on Twitter: If you were a child in 1993, how did you learn about the flood? Some said they heard their parents talking about evacuation plans. Others saw a news report on television. Many couldn’t remember exactly, but they had vivid recollections of the flood itself: water engulfing buildings, generators whirring in the dark, shovels scraping through sand and gravel.

We asked four people who were between the ages of 7 and 17 when the Great Flood of 1993 hit to share their stories.

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.

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. The chorus is comprised of Monroe County residents, including some Valmeyer residents who lost homes.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Let the river rise. Let the heavens fall.
Let the storm make soldiers of us all.

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.

Susan Berthold bought Remington's on North Main Street in St. Charles in 1995.
Carolina Hidalgo

The memories of the 1993 flood are still vivid for St. Charles business owner Susan Berthold. Even though most businesses in the city’s historic downtown were spared from the worst of it, low-lying areas like Boschertown Road were hit hard.

Berthold managed a go-kart track in that area, which took on roughly 13 feet of water.

“It was a monumental project to get cleaned up because of all the acreage required for the track,” Berthold said.

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.