Flood season - Watching and waiting

Thursday, June 12, 2003

For river folks like those of us who call Southeast Missouri home, the waters of the Mighty Mississippi never fully subside. Each spring, it rains. Each spring, we watch.

"Not this year, Lord," we pray. "Not again."

And in the back of our minds: Not like 1993.

It was 10 years ago when what has become known as the Great Flood of 1993 ransacked our lives for one tempestuous summer, forever transforming our landscape and forever decimating our sense of superiority over nature.

Or, to put it a simpler way, the river really had her way with us that summer.

In March, the Mississippi River rose above flood stage for the first time that year. The National Weather Service predicted the potential for flooding was minor to moderate.

Oblivious to predictions, the waters continued to climb. By late April, six Cape Girardeau streets were closed by flooding. In June, the Themis Street floodgate was shut. Riverfest. a downtown street celebration, had to cancel riverfront events.

Meanwhile, heavy rains in St. Louis pushed the river even higher.

On Aug. 8, a new river stage record was set here at 48 feet. It would stay above flood stage for a record-breaking 124 consecutive days, flooding 21,000 acres of Cape Girardeau County farmland, stalling river traffic and defeating levees.

The water cruelly invaded homes that summer.

Across the Midwest there were stories of heroism as people came together to fight back the tide. In the Red Star district, the Meadowbrook area and along Kingshighway, people showed up in droves to work around the clock to save people's homes.

It has been estimated that a million sandbags were used that summer, a symbol of the sweat, tears and virtue that also took place that summer.

For many of us, those images of humanity are the ones that linger.

Still, some people were forced out of their homes. The National Guard was called out to help Commerce residents save the only road into the community. Parts of Commerce looked like a lake.

In the end, people persevered. By October, the river began to return to her banks.

You could argue that some good came of it. The flood revealed a need for an emergency preparedness plan. It led Cape Girardeau to upgrade its radio and standby equipment. Ste. Genevieve has a new federally funded levee. There was federal and state money that was used to buy and tear down about 100 homes in the floodplain, mostly in the Red Star district.

But no amount of good can erase the images that are forever ingrained into our memories of the Great Flood of 1993.

Which is why each spring we watch and wait.

And pray: Not this year, Lord. Not again.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: