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25 years later:

Remembering the

Great Flood of '93

Residents and tourists alike flocked to the grand staircase at the Gateway Arch to see the Mississippi River unmoored from its banks. Video footage provided by Susan Berthold

During the Great Flood of '93, the Mississippi River climbed half-way up the grand staircase of the Gateway Arch to its highest level recorded in the city of St. Louis. Bronze plaques designate the high-water mark — 49.58 feet, set on that Aug. 1.

Today, it’s hard to envision the river reaching that height.

The Mississippi and Missouri rivers set their own rules that summer, overtopping or busting through levees in nine states, including Missouri and Illinois. Fifty people died. At least 10,000 homes were destroyed, and another 40,000 were damaged. State and federal officials calculated the damage at more than $15 billion.

But the numbers don’t capture the misery the flood caused.

A quarter of a century later, people still recall iconic images that played out in the St. Louis region:

The Gummersheimer farmhouse swirling in the brown torrent of the Mississippi near Columbia, Ilinois, and then splintering into pieces.

Propane tanks bobbing in the Mississippi, prompting the evacuation of 5,000 people in south St. Louis and Lemay.

Caskets floating in the Missouri after being unearthed from a cemetery in Hardin, Missouri.

A wet fall in 1992, followed by heavy snow and relentless spring rains set the stage for the record-flooding, according to the National Weather Service .

Local rivertowns were fighting rising water by May, and were in the fight of their lives by July. Despite sweltering heat, thousands answered their calls to help fill sandbags.

The disaster was a watershed event for many floodplain dwellers.

After Valmeyer, Illinois, was submerged by the Mississippi, residents moved their town of 900 to the bluffs above the floodplain.

But the city of Chesterfield, which saw its valley inundated by the Missouri River, opted to strengthen its levees and redevelop the Chesterfield Valley.

Faces of the Flood

Calculating disaster: The scientists who predicted the Great Flood of '93

“We were always doing the what-ifs,” said Dave Busse, chief engineer at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ St. Louis District. “What if this rain continues for another week? Where is it going to go?” Scientists and engineers spent months that year calculating forecasts that helped communities decide whether to evacuate. Sometimes, that required taking measurements of the rivers in hazardous weather.

Read about the science of the flood

When the tragic waters rose, a rural community rushed in to aid Nona, Missouri family

“It is amazing how when something like a tragedy or something bad happens, a lot of the times, all of this goodness rushes in,” Gloria Bauermeister said. She and her husband, Michael, were overwhelmed by the support of community around their rural Nona, Missouri home after the waters rose, forcing them out of their home.

Read about Nona

“It was beyond comprehension:” Devastation and economic rebound in St. Charles County

“I think everybody who was here had no intention of leaving,” said Susan Berthold, who managed a downtown St. Charles business that flooded in 1993. At one point that summer, nearly 40 percent of St. Charles County was underwater. Since then, St. Charles County has been among the most rapidly growing counties in Missouri and development has surged.

Read about St. Charles County

The village of Valmeyer, rebuilt on higher ground after the Great Flood of '93, is now moved to sing

“It was the house that my dad built," said Anna Glaenzer, a lifelong resident of Valmeyer, Illinois. After the Mississippi River inundated the village, heart-broken residents abandoned their homes on the floodplain and built a new town on the river bluffs. Twenty five years later, the community now prepares for its next movement — performing a musical inspired by the Great Flood.

Read about Valmeyer

Generation Flood recalls growing up during the Great Flood of '93

“We could barely see the top of the school because it had flooded so badly,” said LaShana Lewis, who was 17 in 1993, when rising waters flooded East St. Louis schools. For people who grew up during the Great Flood, memories come like the river did then — murky, and in waves.

Read about flood memories

The Great Flood of '93 could happen again, but scientists don’t agree on the odds

“There is nobody that has a perfect crystal ball that can tell you when that next big flood comes,” said Dave Busse, chief engineer at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ St. Louis District. Scientists are split on how likely that will happen. Meanwhile, major flooding in early 2016 has already broken the 1993 flood record in Missouri cities downriver from St. Louis.

Read about the future of floods

Published on July 30, 2018

Reporting Eli Chen
Marissanne Lewis-Thompson
Mary Delach Leonard
Rachel Lippmann
Wayne Pratt
Lindsay Toler
Photography Brian Heffernan
Carolina Hidalgo
David Kovaluk
Wayne Pratt
Drone videography Brent Jones
Maps and graphics Brent Jones
Illustrations David Kovaluk
Project editor Brian Heffernan
Additional material compiled by Abigail Censky
Brent Jones
Kae Petrin
Story editors Maria Altman
David Cazares
Fred Ehrlich
Executive editor Shula Neuman
Copy editing Linda Lockhart
Website production Brent Jones