DIGGING DEEPER: The Great Flood of ’93: 25 Years Later

(WGEM) — The Great Flood of 1993 was one of the most devastating natural disasters in U.S. history.

When it was all said and done, billions of dollars in damage was left from homes washed away, crops and farmland destroyed, and an entire region paralyzed under water for months.

So, what if it happened again?

“You have to do something, because it will come again,” said Marion County Emergency Management Director John Hark. “This thing will come again. We’ll see another ’93 flood off of this thing, maybe higher.”

In 25 years what has changed? Are we more prepared?

Local emergency management officials say when it comes to communication and technology, there’s no question. Not only are we able to communicate faster with mobile devices and the internet, but efforts are much more organized when planning for and fighting a disaster scenario.

“When you look back and what I even remember a little bit about 1993 was there was a lot done on the fly and a lot done out in the field,” said Adams County Emergency Director John Hark. “We didn’t really have that central hub for coordination amongst all organizations and all agencies.”

Technology doesn’t stop the rain from falling or the water from rising, but along with better communication other critical elements are stronger and continue to improve.

The levees along the Mississippi have come a long way in 25 years, including the Sny Island Levee District, which was the last levee to fall in the summer of 1993.

Today, the Sny is stronger than ever before thanks to projects like the one happening now, where tons and tons of sand are being moved to make the base of the levy wider on the north end near Fall Creek.

“This particular segment is at the north end of our system,” said Sny Levee Drainage District Superintendent Mike Reed.

“In any flooding scenario, you want the strongest part of your system to be at the upper end because a levee breach at the north end means the entire area is going to flood. By widening and building this berm up, that forces the seep water that comes through the levee down and away from the levee.”

Area landowners and residents have invested millions of their own money in bonds, not only protecting farmland and homes, but also critical infrastructure like the surrounding highways which were under nearly 20 feet of water in 1993.

“There’s been no Federal assistance, there’s been no state assistance,” Reed said. “The citizens recognize the investment they’re making in this infrastructure as part of investing in their future and investing in the future of the Sny itself for future generations to hopefully benefit from.

For many residents who weren’t protected by a levee system in 1993, the landscape has changed.

One of the hardest hit residential areas in 1993 was low-lying Bear Creek in Hannibal, but those who lived there were moved to higher ground after flood buyouts took place.

“They were bought out, relocated, and the houses were demolished,” said John Hark. “What that did was save people from time after time after time of being flooded and losing everything.”

Officials and those who were a part of the 1993 efforts, both current and former, agree that the final piece of the puzzle is the one the made the biggest impact of all in 199. That being the people who brought the manpower to the flood zones and sacrificed time and effort for their communities.

“I’ve talked to a lot of people since then that point out that it doesn’t happen everywhere,” former Quincy Mayor Chuck Scholz expressed. “In the Midwest people stood up and did what was right to help their friends and neighbors.”

“In ’93 it was just presumed that if you had the opportunity, you would go and fill sandbags,” said former WGEM News anchor Les Sachs.

“Would it happen now, 25 years later, I don’t know. All I can say is I hope so. I hope there’s that kind of community spirit, that ‘Better Together’ spirit that would be a part of flood efforts again.”

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