Midwest meets massive floods

Barriers+block+off+an+iced-over+section+of+floodwater

Hannah Hoffmann

Barriers block off an iced-over section of floodwater

The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. The Great Flood of 1993. It seems history has repeated itself in the most destructive way possible, greeting Missouri and neighboring states with a torrential downpour spanning from Dec. 26 to Dec. 28 that led to the flooding of residential and commercial areas alike.

It was only 23 years ago that the Midwest was hit by its last large-scale flood, the $15 million in damages spanning across Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

The magnitude and severity of this flood event was simply over-whelming”

— National Weather Service

And before this came the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, triggered by a sudden 11 inches of rain.

“Fifty flood deaths occurred, and…hundreds of levees failed along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. The magnitude and severity of this flood event was simply over-whelming, and it ranks as one of the greatest natural disasters ever to hit the United States,” a report by the National Weather Service read following the 1993 catastrophe. “Approximately 600 river forecast points in the Midwestern United States were above flood stage at the same time.”

“The Mississippi River flood of 1927 inundated roughly 27,000 square miles of land and displaced some 700,000 persons. Property damage was estimated at $400 million, and 246 people died in the flood waters,” the Missouri Department of Archives and History’s website stated after the flood’s occurrence.

In the case of both past floods and the 2015 flood, the breaking of multiple levees led to the quick, unstoppable flow of water from overfilled rivers and tributaries. The Great Flood of 1993 is additionally partially attributed to the now-imprisoned James Scott after he was convicted of purposely breaking a levee in Illinois by removing sandbags. For the 2015 and 1927 floods, levee damage was caused by rainfall alone.

After a 100-foot section of the Monarch-Chesterfield Levee was broken in 1993, eight feet of water surged into the Chesterfield Valley and left a historic mark on local businesses and homes that is memorialized today through lines drawn and painted on buildings and signs throughout the area.

Flooding in Chesterfield Valley
Flooding in Chesterfield Valley

“The bottom of this plaque indicates the high water mark of the Great Flood of 1993. On [August 1, 1993], the Mississippi River reached 49.58 feet, the highest level ever recorded in the city of St. Louis,” a plaque affixed to the steps of the St. Louis arch reads.

Since then, the earthen levee has been built up from 3 feet to 6 feet, widened, circled by monitored wetlands and outfitted with additional flood gates.

“Although several dozen businesses abandoned the area for higher ground after the devastating flood, others chose to remain,” Hanson Inc.’s project gallery reads. “The city of Chesterfield created a tax-increment financing district to rebuild the levee and revitalize the area. As a result, Chesterfield Valley has become one of the region’s hottest retail markets, and its success has spurred other cities to develop their flood plains.”

Now standing as a 500-year levee, the project has undergone major construction to be officially upgraded from a 100-year levee as it was in 1993. Hanson Inc. has additional plans to build flood walls around the levee.

Missouri governor Jay Nixon called in the National Guard after the events of 2015’s flood, providing security in evacuated areas, directing traffic and generally providing aid, the guard was also present during 1993’s flood.

“I mean, 13 feet above flood level is one thing. The four feet above all-time historic levels puts us in a situation where we’re evacuating folks. It’s why I called the National Guard, it’s why we’ve got a state of emergency, it’s why we’re working with the Red Cross. It’s cold out there too,” Nixon said in a phone interview with CNN as the 2015 flood progressed. “This is dangerous, we’ve got water moving.”

Flooding is nothing new to St. Louis, and the extensive cleanup of debris and the thousands of damaged buildings after the area’s most recent flood has only just begun.

Twenty-eight lives were lost to the rising water as cars were swept off the road, individuals were pulled undercurrent and electrical lines were downed. At least five of the victims have been confirmed as international soldiers.

“Historic [and] heartbreaking losses,” Nixon said in an additional tweet. “We’ll be [with] these Missourians every step of the way.”