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A look back at the flood of '93

Monday, July 28, 2003

Residents such as Gorrell family in Malta Bend used boats as a means of transportation to get to their flooded homes and farms during the summer of 1993 in the Missouri River bottoms. Photo by Chuck Gorrell
The Flood of 1993 affected nine Midwestern states, killed 50 people, left 54,000 homeless and damaged property to the tune of $12 to $16 billion, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Missouri was hit hard, as the flood left 25 Missourians dead and an estimated 55,000 Missouri homes flooded. With 75 miles of Missouri River shoreline, Saline County saw 60,000 acres of cropland and nearly one-fourth of its grain crops damaged by flooding a decade ago.

Farmers hit

Ten years after the flood, Alan Clements of Miami said he and his family have two 40-foot-tall mounds of dirt dumped by the flood still on their farmland in the river valley.

"We lost about 1,300 acres (during the flood)," he said.

The Clements family spent about 10 months cleaning up the land after the '93 disaster -- consolidating the sand as much as possible, deep plowing the sand to mix it with farming soil and rebuilding levees.

"When that flood came, it made big holes (in levees)," Clements said. "I think in one bottom we farmed there it had about 26 cuts in the levee. It was pretty much a mess."

Clements, along with his father and brother, rebuilt the levees around the holes, thereby losing part of the land they previously farmed.

Corn grower Ed Dysart, who owns land in the Miami bottoms, said the flood prevented farming for a year or two, but after that most farmers were out planting their fields.

"It sure created a lot of problems for a while," he said. "Basically, the farming has been pretty decent since then."

Raymond Cooper of Grand Pass said most of the farmers did exactly what the Clements did: kept growing corn.

"It didn't cut our farm up much," Cooper said. "We lost our crops, we even lost the pecan trees. But we came out pretty good."

Mike Arth said his farmland in Grand Pass has continued to improve over the past 10 years.

"This ground's still trying to heal," Arth said. "There's some parts that get water setting on them easier. It has changed some of the ground down here."

Arth said he permanently lost about 30 acres out of 750 to the flood, and 50 to 75 acres don't produce as well as they did before '93. "It impacted the back pocket for a few years," he said. "It makes you kind of antsy when the river gets up high."

Altered landscape

Jim Weaver of Malta Bend said he has recovered all but 15 acres of land since the flooding.

"It was really devastating at the time," he said. "We had about 10,000 acres of water on our land and when it went down it looked like a desert."

After the flood, Weaver dug 30 feet into the ground to mix the 15 inches of sand floodwaters left behind into his soil.

"It took about three years to get it back in production," he said of his land. "About the second crop year it was back real good."

But some farmers couldn't recover their land.

"There were farmers that quit after that because they couldn't take the hit that year," Weaver said.

Charlie Guthrie, who was a county commissioner when the flooding began, said, "It's a very expensive thing to remove sand. Some farmers still are not able to farm their land because of debris, especially the sand."

Mike Dickey, site administrator for Arrow Rock State Historic Site, said the landscape in Arrow Rock -- a historic village on the banks of the Missouri -- also changed after the flood, when farmers sold their once-fertile farmland to produce a wildlife refuge.

"(It) looked kind of like the Iraqi Desert after the flood," Dickey said. "Farmers gave up the land. Before '93 it was a bean field and now it's a big cottonwood forest and marsh out there.

"It's been a big change for Arrow Rock," he said. "It's gone from agriculture production to wildlife refuge."

Some 1,900 acres, most of which was farmland, were purchased in Saline County to help create the Big Muddy National Fish and Wildlife Refuge.

Water rises

But more than crops were damaged in the area.

"Our water supply was knocked out and we drank canned water for three months," Dickey said.

Arrow Rock residents weren't alone in '93 either.

Guthrie said people who lived in Slater during the flood appreciate their tap water today, which stopped flowing for three months during the big flood.

"BHA brought in water and gave it away to their employees," he said. "Anheuser-Busch brought in I don't know how many cans."

Guthrie also said some roads had to be relocated because of the sand buildup from the flood.

"It was quite a trying time," he said. "The commission then, they went that second mile (and made) a lot of phone calls because people needed help."

Weaver said his mother lived in a house in the bottoms and had to move out because of the flooding. He said 50 or 60 people helped her move.

"I was pleasantly surprised at the number of people that helped," he said. "I think, if there was another crisis, people would come together again."

Water encompasses the Brunswick river terminal, a few miles north of the Saline County line into Chariton County, during the flood of '93. Photo by Garold Drake
Weaver said other houses had to be rebuilt after the water receded, but his mother never moved back.

The flooding also left Van Meter State Park, a little over 12 miles north of Marshall, under water for two weeks, according to park maintenance worker Larry Moore. "When the water went down, it killed all the trees," he said. "I know one thing, I wouldn't want to go through that again."

Moore said it took three or four months to get Van Meter looking like a park again.


Paul Fetterman was vice president of engineering at Gateway Western Railway, now Kansas City Railroad, during the flood of '93. Gateway's entire line ran from St. Louis to Kansas City. "So basically our entire railroad was out of service," Fetterman said. "It was an intense period. We were fighting for the survival of the railroad, that being the only line in the company."

He said the company, with help from the Army Corps of Engineers, made a few futile attempts to save the railroad, then tried to use the railroad as a make-shift levee to save the land beyond. They tried using 10-ton boulders and 60-ton railroad cars to keep the land from washing away.

"It didn't help us at all," Fetterman said. "The river was just too powerful. Those 10 or 20 railroad cars just disappeared into the river, and we never found them."

He said the railroad was temporarily detoured to Mexico for six months before coming back online in early 1994. "It was a tremendous cooperation among the railroads during that period," he said. Fetterman said 400 miles of railroad and levees were rebuilt as they had been before.

As the water continued to rise, peaking July 29 at 32.4 feet in Miami and 39.6 feet in Glasgow, levees began to break.

"We found volunteers and sent them out to areas to help them sandbag," said John Rieves, then serving as emergency management director for the county and city of Marshall. "We even assisted people moving out of their homes when we realized we weren't going to win with the sandbagging."

Looking back 10 years later, Rieves said, other than a few less farmers and houses, he hasn't seen that much change to Saline County's landscape. "I don't think there have been any huge, major changes because I don't think much more could have been done," he said. "We were quite simply overwhelmed."

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They are related. I can't tell which Gorrells are shown exactly, but that farm is owned by my husband's father's cousin. The Gorrells who now farm it are my husband's second cousins. We don't farm any bottomland, but do farm land near Malta Bend.

-- Posted by Marcia Gorrell on Fri, Jul 15, 2011, at 11:37 PM

Yes, the Missouri River has a long history of rising up and "overwhelming" the countryside and its inhabitants.

Are the Gorrells pictured related to Marcia Gorrell's family?

-- Posted by upsedaisy on Fri, Jul 15, 2011, at 5:10 PM

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