It’s been nearly 30 years since a devastating flood submerged much of the Mississippi and Missouri river corridor for more than half of the year.
Beginning in April of 1993, the effects of a wet autumn and an exceptionally snowy winter combined to raise the water level of the mighty Mississippi and its tributaries to a startling degree. Reservoirs were full, and the soil was saturated even before a heavy load of snowmelt hit that spring. Compounding the issue was a series of persistent storms that bombarded the region through the late spring and summer.
Though people in the area thought they might get a reprieve when the rivers dropped below flood stage in June, the relief proved to be short-lived. Water levels reversed and began to rise again by the end of the month. Things worsened in July when heavy rains resumed.
The flooding was the worst this region had seen since the historic 1927 flood, though there had been other notable flood years, in the time since, particularly in 1951 and 1973. After the 1951 floods, an expansive system of levees was constructed to protect residential areas and farmland from floodwaters. During the spring and summer of 1993, thousands of these levees failed, allowing floodwaters to spill out and submerge a 30,000 square mile area.
Navigation was shut down along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, resulting in commercial losses of $2 million per day, entire towns were evacuated, and those just outside the flood plain were left without potable water for several weeks.
The water continued to rise throughout the summer, cresting in August. In many areas, the Mississippi reached a height of 49 feet, more than 20 feet above flood stage. The city of St. Louis narrowly avoided having its entire downtown flooded thanks to a 52-foot floodwall that held its ground throughout the disaster.
By many measures, the flood of 1993 was the worst natural disaster in the United States since the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. No other flood approached its duration, the number square miles affected, people displaced, or levels of crop and property damage. In some respects, the 1993 flood even surpassed the 1927 flood.
By the time the floodwaters had receded, later that fall, portions of the Mississippi River were at flood stage for nearly 200 days, while some locations on the Missouri experienced about 100 days of flooding. In that time, at least 32 lives had been claimed and the region suffered and estimated 15—20 billion dollars in damage.