The Great Flood of 1993
September 30, 2018
This paper explores the 1993 event which took place across 9 states in the Midwest. The Great Flood of 1993 is ranked as one of the greatest natural disasters to ever hit the United States. Thousands of houses were destroyed and hundreds of towns across the Midwest were affected with some being completely under the flood water. Many were killed during this flood and damages reached over $15 billion. This paper will also explain the importance of accurate media coverage and its role before, during and after any difficult situation which affects so many Americans. Tens of thousands of people were displaced with many to never return to their homes. The area affected had many flood plains. Since this 1993 flood there has been multiple buyouts to help dramatically decrease the impact future flooding can have on households in the Midwest.
Description of the Great Flood of 1993
I have chosen the Great Flood of 1993 for this case study. I have searched many sources to try to find the most accurate and applicable information for this paper. In May 1993 record flooding occurred in the Midwest across the following nine states: North Dakota, South Dakota, Kansas, Nebraska, Minnesota, Missouri, Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois. This flooding continued through September 1993. As a result of the flood waters raging there were fifty people killed and resulted in approximately $15 billion in damages. Tens of thousands of people were evacuated from their homes which would also result in at least 10,000 households being displaced because their home and their entire livelihood were destroyed by these treacherous waters. Over 15 million acres of farmland were submerged under flood waters. Many bridges, highways and various roads across the Midwest were severely affected resulting in many closures. With the increased rainfall in the Midwest precipitation was 200-350 percent above normal levels. Across the nine states over 400,000 square miles were affected. In some locations the flood duration was close to 200 days. With the amount of flood waters raging it affected many levees and barges which also greatly impacted transportation along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. There was no railroad traffic in the Midwest during this time. There were also close to a dozen commercial airports impacted by the flood. This disaster didn’t just go away after these five months. Many were affected for years to come following this tragic event.
There are a few problems that I see from this story. First, the levees weren’t designed to hold the amount of water that the precipitation was producing. Second, there are many people living in the floodplains across the Midwest whom don’t have flood insurance. Third, there was a Missouri man who volunteered to help with the levees by the name of James “Jimmy” Scott who was tried and convicted of intentionally causing a catastrophe.
“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. Approximately 600 river forecast points in the Midwestern United States were above flood stage at the same time. Nearly 150 major rivers and tributaries were affected” (Larson). As of June 1, 1993, soils and streams were filled to capacity. The precipitation totals in the Midwest had surpassed between 12 inches up to 38.4 inches in various states. The rainfall was nearly continuous with no end in sight. The runoff from the rainfall had no place to go except into the streams and rivers which were already at capacity. The National Weather Service observed the hydrograph to try and predict flood levels. The limitation of the hydrograph is that is assumes that at some point the rain will subside which didn’t happen this time (Larson). Many of the homes affected were located in floodplains but most of the homeowners didn’t have flood insurance. In a case study by two professors at Colorado State University they examined the Midwestern flood of 1993. In their paper they express that, “Reporters also gravitate toward story “hook.” One such hook is the presence of fatalities. In all, these factors contributed to a geographic bias that lead newspapers to give greater emphasis to some area struck by flooding while ignoring others, inadvertently misrepresenting the accrual extent of the disaster” (Lederer & Ernest, 6-7). “The media can play a critical role before, during and after such incidents. The media is essential, for example, for warnings to be effective and may be the single most important source of public information in the wake of a disaster” (Scanlon). Another source also backs this claim with the following statement: “Survey data indicate that the news media are, by far, the most important sources of disaster related information” (Goltz, 346). There is only one man in Missouri history to ever be sent to jail for the 1979 Missouri law for “Intentionally Causing a Catastrophe.” His name is James “Jimmy” Scott and in July 1993 he volunteered his time along with hundreds of other volunteers to help the National Guard with one of the Mississippi River levee that protected the small town of West Quincy, Missouri. Scott, who at the time was 23 years old, was an ex-con who was a part-time janitor at one of the local fast food restaurants. The morning of July 16 he went to volunteer his time and was given waders to walk along a levee which was located between Bayview Bridge and Quincy Memorial Bridge. Scott was given the job to repair damaged tarps covering the sandbags with duct tape. Scott came upon a spot which looked weak because he noticed water seeping through the tarp. He removed four sandbags from one spot and relocated them to the weak area. Scott later notified one of the National Guard members of the weakened area. After explaining what he discovered he was relocated to a more dire area but was told that the area brought to their attention would be looked over if conditions got worse. Later than evening the levee failed with the river rushing through. A couple of men told Scott the news of the failed levee. After hearing the news Scott came across a reporter who wanted to hear about Scott’s volunteer effort on the levee. He told the reporter his discovery which turned into another news appearance during the live broadcast. During the news feed a Sergeant from the Quincy Police Department recognized Scott and knew of his history of property damage. The Sergeant was concerned about some of the details of Scott’s story not adding up so he was called in for questioning. Scott was released but the Sergeant was determined that Scott sabotaged the levee but he needed to prove it. They found a motive from an acquaintance of Scott who claims he was told by Scott that he wanted to wreck the levee so he could have an affair. There was a three day trial where the jury convicted Scott of intentionally causing the levee to break due to him being a repeated offender. He was sentenced to life in prison but Scott maintains his innocence (Grant et al).
Key Decision Criteria
My main criteria for choosing which alternative is best are going to be based on the greatest number of people who will be positively impacted now and also in the future.
One alternative to future floods in the floodplains, hazard mitigation, would be to have one’s property purchased and moved to an area outside of the flood zone and/or purchased and demolished so no new structures will ever be able to be built at the current location within the floodplain. Another alternative would be to construct buildings out of material that is stronger than the common building supplies and also to build up the foundation. It would also help to create stronger flood barriers or an area that can store water when levels are higher.
My recommendation is to use a buy out and to clear the floodplain areas which will in turn reduce the efforts and money spent for future flood claims.
Action and implementation Plan
Many hazard mitigation programs have been put into effect since the Great Flood of 1993. “Since the 1993 floods, Iowa has begun more than 46 acquisition and relocation projects, according to Dennis Harper, the State of Iowa hazard mitigation officer. Some 1,000 properties have been removed from flood-hazard areas in the state. More than 20 critical facilities, such as hospitals, have been protected. At least 66 projects have been funded, with a total investment of $54 million in FEMA, state and local community funds. The long-term payoff is 2 dollars returned for every 1 dollar invested, Harper says. In some communities the payoff is already greater” (U & F, 35). In Cedar Falls, Iowa “all properties are deed restricted and must remain in public ownership permanently” (U & F, 36). As shown from the previous statements, the acquisition of properties in the floodplain whether demolishing or relocated has been a large potential future hazard that will be avoided which allows for more money in everyone’s pockets.
Goltz, J. D. (1984). Are the News Media Responsible for the Disaster Myths? A Content Analysis of Emergency Response Imagery. International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters, 345-368. Retrieved September 29, 2018.
Grant, M., Rackwitz/St, J., & Post-Dispatch, L. (2018, August 09). This Man Caused The Great Flood Of 1993 - Or Did He? Retrieved September 28, 2018, from https://www.urbo.com/content/this-man-caused-the-great-flood-of-1993-or-did-he/
Larson, L. W. (1996, June). The Great USA Flood of 1993. Retrieved September 29, 2018, from https://www.nwrfc.noaa.gov/floods/papers/oh_2/great.htm
Lederer, N., & Ernest, D. J. (2000, June). Media Reports a Library Disaster: A Case Study at Colorado State University [Scholarly project]. In Colorado State University. Retrieved September 28, 2018, from https://mountainscholar.org/handle/10217/41821
Scanlon, J. (n.d.). Research about the Mass Media and Disaster: Never (Well Hardly Ever) The Twain Shall Meet. Retrieved September 29, 2018, from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/252347137_Research_about_the_Mass_Media_ and_Disaster_Never_Well_Hardly_Ever_The_Twain_Shall_Meet.
U., & F. (2003, May). The 1993 Great Midwest Flood: Voices 10 Years Later. Retrieved September 29, 2018, from https://www.fema.gov/1993-great-midwest-flood-voices-10- years-later