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The Mississippi and Missouri River Flood of 1993

Twenty years ago, America’s Midwest was under water. Farmers’ Almanac looks back at this devastating flood.

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.

Jaime McLeod is a longtime journalist who has written for a wide variety of newspapers, magazines, and websites, including MTV.com. She enjoys the outdoors, growing and eating organic food, and is interested in all aspects of natural wellness.

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Mike

charli,

How did you all fair in 2011? What are your feelings about the Army Corps of Engineers blowing up the levees?

Richard Sutton

While we try to control the floods with levees,buy it holds back the water until it has no place to go. When the levees fail all of the water that was held back rushes though the opening and floods is greater. The flooding was much worst because of the levee systems. It is a catch 22 .

Along time ago we wanted to have the land flooded. It enriched the soil naturally.

Leanne

Really enjoyed that Charli. Loved all the pics!

Don L

I was very fortunate to have just missed the flood of 1993 while stationed at NAS Memphis. I ended up going to Virginia Beach in April 1993 and watched the news reports of the massive flooding.

R J

NW Mo has had a lot of flooding in my lifetime. It has gotten more frequent since 73. 2011 got real close to 93, with the exception of the rains locally not anything like 93. It rained every day in July save the last 4 in 93 and they were not little 1/4″ in 2 hours, it was inches per hour. No where for rain water to go and that caused a whole bunch of trash and dead livestock to go down the Muddy Missouri. It was moving fast enough to tie a rope to a solid object and water ski on if it didn’t have all the trash in it.

Alle

I live in Illinois, right on the Mississippi, and remember the ’93 flood well. The majority of my neighborhood had to evacuate. You could canoe through our yards, over our fence lines, down our road, and down the major highway that sits at least 800 feet from the banks of the river. We sand bagged like crazy, but it wasn’t enough to save the majority of my neighbor’s homes. My house sat on a very high hill and that saved it. We had a lot of water in the basement, but the main levels of the home stayed dry. Very memorable year.

Jess

Witnessed the ’93 flood first hand. I was 13. Our little town along the river was crowded with Illinois National guardsmen. My grandfather was in charge of cooking all the meals for the red cross that summer at his church and shipped them out to volunteers up and down the levee’s. We sandbagged everyday in our little park. I still remember it like it was yesterday! Hard to believe it’s been 20 years.

Michael Amato

In 1955 Connecticut, where I still live, we had back to back hurricanes, Connie & Diane, which brought historical floods to the Naugatauk Valley. I was only nine years old at the time but I remember how bad it was for our relatives who were thapped during the flood. Luckily, my relatives lived on top of a hill & while they were trapped, they were also high & dry.

mark duenow

very beautiful mamy meries. MSD

K McCartney

Charli Lux …. thanks for that! Wonderfully written! Its a good perspective on what we all need to remember!

MJ

No one seems to know about the flood in Tennessee in 2010–the worst non-coastal disaster in U.S. history. I saw the flood in St. Louis, and I remember thinking, “How will these people recover?” Little did I know that I’d learn firsthand how to recover from a flood. More and more, natural disasters are not something that happen to “other people.”

Charli Lux

1985/1993/2011 We lived it. We just went through it again in 2011. In ’93 the water was in for 3+ weeks. In 2011 it was in for 3 months.
Here’s our story from 1993 along with pictures.
http://jefflux.homestead.com/flood.html

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