I wrote yesterday about three major floods that wracked the city of Johnstown in less than a century, 1889-1977, and how I had moved there just in time for the flood of 1977. You might think this is the extent of flood-related drama in my life, but such is not the case.
The first flood happened when I was in third grade. We were living in the little brick house my parents built on the outskirts of Indianapolis. The architectural plans for this house included a driveway that sloped down to a basement garage. One day heavy rains dumped a small deluge on the area and our basement began to fill. In fact, it filled to the point of becoming a lake. The newly installed sump pump was being put to the test, a test which, unfortunately, it failed miserably. As the water level inched higher and higher, my mom gave me permission to open the basement door to take a look. It seemed like half the staircase was submerged; tilting cardboard boxes were swirling atop the muddy water, and for a brief moment I wished I had a boat. But the scene was also a little bit scary, so I closed the door fairly quickly and sought refuge in my (still dry) bedroom.
Okay, so technically this wasn’t a real flood. But to my juvenile sensibilities it approached Noachian proportions. And the devastation in my world was equally grave: my mother’s carefully stored wedding dress was utterly ruined. She grieved the loss of the dress as well as the loss of any opportunity to pass it on to her daughters.
The next high water encounter was, as mentioned before, our experience with the Johnstown flood of ’77. Then, sixteen years later, in the summer of 1993, we were face to face with another one. And once again, my husband had been assigned to a new position — this time in Columbia, Missouri. As we prepared for our move from New Jersey to the Heartland, we nervously watched TV news reports on the status of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, which were worsening day by day.
It all started with a wetter than normal autumn in 1992 in the Missouri and Upper Mississippi River basins. Following this, heavy winter snowfall and spring rains completely saturated the soil in these regions by June 1st. At this point, additional rainfall merely ran off, spilling into streams and tributaries of these two great rivers. Many areas received 400–750% above normal rainfall between April 1st and August 31st, 1993, with one area of east central Iowa receiving a whopping 48 inches!
The very day we moved into our new home — July 31st, I believe — the bridge on US Highway 63 that crosses the Missouri River, connecting Jefferson City (and points south) to the northern part of the state, was closed; flood waters had completely submerged the lanes of highway that crossed the floodplain leading to the bridge. Only days later, rising water threatened to close I-70, severing the western half of the state from the eastern half. The prospect of being trapped in one place by rising water, and not being able to travel if I would like to, gave me an eerie feeling. Fortunately, massive sandbagging efforts managed to stay ahead of the water, and the bridge across the Missouri River at Rocheport remained open.
The weeks that ensued were nail biters. In St. Louis, the Mississippi rose to nearly twenty feet above flood stage and came within two feet of the top of the 52-foot flood wall. Had the river overflowed this wall, downtown St. Louis would have been submerged. My parents home, about 7 miles across the river from the Arch, was in jeopardy of being flooded; they decided to move their furniture and valuables to a safer location. Eventually the rivers crested and the threat of further flooding abated and residents of the affected areas would exhale. Waters subsided and flooded communities embarked on the gargantuan chore of cleaning up and rebuilding. Approximately 100,000 homes were destroyed and 15 million acres of farmland was inundated. The flooding cost 32 lives officially (but perhaps upwards of 50), and an estimated $15-20 billion in damages.
ll this to say…
If you get word that my husband has accepted a position in your locale and we are making plans to move there, head for higher ground.