Rural Missouri - June 2018 - 8
In the wake of the
25 years later, Missouri remembers the Great Flood of '93
by Zach Smith | firstname.lastname@example.org
iving in one of the three largest ﬂoodplains on the planet, people residing
along Missouri's rivers have grown used to high water. But few disasters
in recent history spark memories and conversations as much as the
Great Flood of 1993.
St. Joseph Museums Director Sara Wilson and author Kenneth L. Kieser
recall the events of 25 years ago as if they happened yesterday. With the help
of 20 historians, technicians and other contributors and using Kenneth's book
- "Missouri's Great Flood of '93: Revisiting an Epic Natural Disaster" - as
a guidepost, they've recreated some of those experiences. The "Conﬂuence"
exhibit at St. Joseph's Wyeth Tootle Mansion remembers not only the disaster,
but also the indomitable spirit of those affected. It also examines the science
behind ﬂooding and the important role it plays for the plants, animals and
many Missourians who live along the rivers.
" '93 was a remarkable event, but it will happen again. This is not something
we're ever going to be able to prevent," Sara says. "This is not about predicting
the next 500-year ﬂood, it's about accepting that rivers do what rivers do."
Several factors combined to cause the devasting Midwestern ﬂoods in 1993.
The 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines combined with El Nino
the following year caused a wet winter in 1992, saturating the ground. When
spring rains arrived and continued for 30 days, the water had nowhere to go
except the river and its tributaries. More was released at dams upstream. Eventually, the narrow channel and banks could no longer hold back the tide that
in centuries past had meandered across the shallows and
photo below courtesy of Kenneth L. Kieser
Black and white photos from the Rural Missouri archives
"Every spring and summer we'd have seasonal
ﬂooding," says Sara, who
grew up in the small town
of Rosendale. "We thought,
'We are getting more ﬂood-
ing than usual,' that year, but nobody knew how much."
"It was nothing we hadn't seen before," adds Kenneth. "And nobody could
have known we'd get what we did."
Since the Missouri River's channelization, the worst prior ﬂooding in the
area dated back to 1952 at nearly 27 feet in St. Joseph. Water crested over
32 feet in 1993 - almost double the typical ﬂood stage. Sara recalls the day
in mid-July when it became apparent things were quickly about to change in
"The water was out and it was high. Within four
hours it was running down the street," Sara says.
"My dad said the only time that had happened was
Downstream at Parkville, Kenneth was one of several hundred volunteers ﬁlling sandbags. Days later
he was ﬂoating 8 feet over them in a drift boat, photographing the damage wrought by nature. Then a
board member of the Outdoor Writers Association of
America, Kenneth was contacted by the Izaak Walton
League and other conservation organizations which
wanted to show the damage to Congress. He would
spend two weeks shooting more than 400 photographs of the ﬂood. Those pictures, along with interviews of many Missourians who lived through the event,
are collected in his book.
"I was around a lot of places that I was raised in and saw it all ﬂooded," says
Kenneth, an Easton native. "It broke my heart, I couldn't even talk at times."
The scenes Kenneth witnessed north of Kansas City would repeat themselves across nine states in the Heartland, particularly around the Missouri
and Mississippi rivers. Residents who did not evacuate in time found themselves stranded on islands that had once been their homes. Store inventories
including whole lumberyards were washed away. Farmers desperately tried to
rope cows and pigs caught in the current. A sheep herd stranded near Big Lake
State Park was evacuated by a ﬂeet of pontoon boats. Others were not so lucky.
Sara recalls animal carcasses bobbing in the rushing water alongside propane
Top: Lewis County Rural Electric Cooperative's Dan Griesbaum inspects lines along partially submerged poles. Left: Buildings in
downtown Parkville were completely indundated by ﬂoodwaters. Below: At Jefferson City, the Missouri River spread bluff to bluff.