Floods of 1993

This series of 13 news reports follows the Great Mississippi and Missouri Floods of 1993, covering the efforts to hold back the flooding and the extensive damage caused to property, farmland, business, and infrastructure.

0:00Copy video clip URL Title screen

0:09Copy video clip URL Helicopter footage of the flooded plains.

0:31Copy video clip URL Ray Machens, his son, and neighbors have spent weeks sandbagging the levy protecting West Alton, MO, but these efforts have been called off. 15 lives have been lost, millions of dollars of property and farmland has been destroyed, and all river traffic has been stopped. Governor Mel Carnahan has called for emergency help. Machens wishes the government had acted two years ago when they asked to raise the levy by two feet. He says there is no way to recoup the losses from damage to their farm.

5:20Copy video clip URL The Machens emptied the house before the levy failed, and they lament the destruction of their home. Levy breaks were occurring all along the Mississippi. Residents had hoped to control the flow of the water, but their plan failed. Gary Machens believes that the break was caused by a boat who purposefully crashed through their sandbags.

9:39Copy video clip URL The United States has spent billions to construct an elaborate system to control the Upper Mississippi River Basin, but the dams are now wide open and the levies are starting to give. Because of the speed of the water, evacuation orders are taken seriously. Volunteers are sandbagging the weakened levy protecting Lemay, MO. Because St. Louis is protected by a concrete sea wall, there is little chance that its downtown will flood.

14:40Copy video clip URL The crest of the flooding Mississippi hit the Davenport, IA area. In Louisa county, people have joined together to protect the levies. Farmer Lloyd Myerholz talks about the flood, their efforts to protect the land, and his losses. Louisa was declared eligible for disaster relief, with early estimates for agricultural losses standing at $7.5 million. With the help of the National Guard, volunteers fill sandbags to protect the area’s pumping station. The county residents are expecting major business losses.

25:31Copy video clip URL More rain in Des Moines, IA has complicated efforts to restore the city’s water supply. The National Guard directs a massive sandbagging operation on the road to the water treatment plant. Officials say it will be at least a week until water is available. Marianna Lutrell and her grandson, who have spent all day getting water from the distribution center, describe how their family has coped without running water. The manager of a nearby restaurant describes the difficulties of sourcing water and staying open for business.

33:07Copy video clip URL President Clinton visits Des Moines, which remains without water, and promises that federal help is on the way. His administration later said that the federal relief package has doubled from last week’s estimates, and Clinton is now promising $2 billion in aid. A liason for FEMA is hopeful that aid money will begin to be distributed in just a few days.

38:41Copy video clip URL Colonel Al Kraus, a commander of the Army Corps of Engineers, considers releasing more water from the Coralville Reservoir, which could threaten Iowa City’s water treatment plant. The corps tries to control the outflow from dams and reservoirs on the rivers leading into the Mississippi. If more water is not let out of the reservoir, the severe flooding upstream will continue. The corps decides not to drain water from the reservoir, much to the relief of the treatment plant’s superintendent.

45:15Copy video clip URL While downtown St. Louis is protected from the flood by a concrete seawall, other parts of the city have been flooded. Further north, St. Charles County is now 40% under water. Parishioners of a small church are joined by volunteers to build a protective sandbag wall. They learn that the latest crest prediction will put the water over their wall, which devastates Reverend Ken Spilger and Tom Scott, who were organizing much of the effort. Officials stopped the sandbagging effort near Scott’s home when the pressure on the wall became too dangerous.

54:24Copy video clip URL The wall around Rev. Spilger’s church successfully held back the crest of the river. Tom and Betty Scott were not so lucky – with the pumps removed from the sandbag wall, the seepage brought the water level to the same height on both side. Rev. Spilger is worried by the latest report from the Army Corps of Engineers, which predicts a second, higher crest on the river that night.

58:07Copy video clip URL Levies are the primary method of controlling the rivers here, and most are quasi-public levy districts, built by the protected communities. The Machens family is upset that FEMA has not allowed them to build their levies high enough to protect their land, but Colonel James Craig says that many considerations go into those decisions. Environmental activist Roger Pryor is concerned by the corps’ concrete levies, and believes no more development should be allowed on flood plains. Farmers say that the corps’ locks and dams cause silt buildup and impede the river’s natural flow, worsening flooding. The corps says it must balance the needs of the river’s shipping industry, the needs of farmers, and the need to protect existing urban areas. Col. Craig thinks the solution is a combination of reservoirs, levies, and temporary storage areas.

1:08:29Copy video clip URL Ste. Genevieve was wiped out by flooding in the 1700s and moved to higher ground, but is flooding yet again. The ever-changing crest reports have frustrated Richard Ulman, who is trying to protect his home from the flooding. Col. Craig says that the Mississippi has spent a week on a continuing crest in the St. Louis area, and they cannot predict when the crest will recede. Prisoners from the Farmington correctional center have been helping with the sandbagging effort.

1:13:31Copy video clip URL Despite the high crests on the Missouri and Kansas rivers, the levies protecting Kansas City, MO and Kansas City, KS have held. Michael Bart of the Army Corps says that these flood walls and levies have never been under so much pressure. Officials say that an extensive flood control plan, in effect since the 1930s, protected the cities from flooding. The nearby town of Parkville, was not protected by a levy, and now 40% of the business district is underwater. Former alderman Bob Dickson is worried about the town’s economic future, but is not pushing for levy protection.

1:19:02Copy video clip URL In Kansas City, the country’s second largest railroad hub, cross-country railroad traffic has virtually shut down. Transportation Secretary Federico Pena says the entire system is in trouble, affecting the railways, highways, airports, and barges. Railroad officials say this is the worst national disaster they have ever experienced. They expect millions of dollars in losses from delays and reroutes, and the railroads will require extensive repair. A Ford plant outside of Kansas City has found alternative means to get their parts, which are costly, but it remains operational. Bartlett Grain Company has been less fortunate—they have been unable to ship anything in or out and face a massive clean-up job.

1:27:06Copy video clip URL End of tape.



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