Flood of 1993 reaches 30-year anniversary


Steve Kueker knew something was going to happen to the Bois Brule Levee eventually.
“There’ just so much that took place before the break,” Kueker said. “You just had a feeling something bad was going to happen because you’re dealing with the river afterall. It seemed like every 10 or so years, weather patterns would come in and do something. There was a lot of stuff that happened that night. We were really fortunate it happened down the river.”
Kueker turned out to be right.
After days of flood warnings, statements, evacuations and preparations, the Mississippi River had finally become too much for the 50-foot Bois Brule Levee to hold back. Monday, July 25, marks the 30th anniversary of the catastrophic breach that resulted in at least 26,000 acres of flooded farmland, an estimated $13 million loss in sorghum, wheat, soybeans, and corn, and at least 90 flooded homes and businesses, including the Sabreliner Corporation at Perryville Regional Airport and Gilster Mary-Lee’s popcorn and cereal plant in McBride, Mo.
Kueker, who was part of the levee district during the disaster said the event could have been much worse.
“The Mississippi River is like a soup bowl with pipes that drain out the bottom of the bowl,” he said. “People don’t realize is that the bottom is not flat here. It actually has a tilt to allow it to flow. At the Chester Bridge, the water is one height and down by Menfro it’s like 10 feet lower. If it had broken at the Chester Bridge it would have decimated more acres and tore up a bunch of stuff.”
The rise in river levels were the result of higher-than-usual wet falls in the previous year, according to a report from the National Weather Service. Some areas had received more than 4 feet of rain during the period leading up to the flood, which resulted in “above normal soil moisture and reservoir levels in the Missouri and Upper Mississippi River basins”. A July 27, 1993 article in The New York Times noted that rocky river bottoms in the Perry County and Cape Girardeau regions contributed to the river’s restricted movement, in contrast with the sandy and muddier river bottoms found below Cairo, Ill. It was a recipe for disaster, and disaster struck quickly.

Kueker got a call at approximately 11 p.m. saying there was “water shooting up like a geyser.”
“Water had found its way to the weak link in the chain and a few of the Corp of Engineers and volunteers and myself got a bunch of sandbags and made a swimming pool of sandbags to put pressure on that geyser to stop it from eating more ground away.”
Kueker said that as time passed another geyser had formed and began shooting water into the air and more sandbags were put in that area as well.
The Flood stage at Chester is normally 27 feet. During the Flood, the Mississippi River reached a maximum stage of 49.74 feet. Over 1,000 of the 1,300 levees were breached or overtopped, displacing 70,000 people.
Homes in the plain were flooded to their second floor windows, covering much of the area in 10 to 20 feet of water. Nearly 50,000 homes were destroyed or damaged, 12,000 square miles of crops were lost and 52 people died.
For at least 68 days the Chester Bridge was closed, forcing residents to drive to St. Louis or Cape Girardeau to cross the Mississippi River.
Not only was the Flood considered the most destructive, it was of the longest duration. Flood stage in Chester was exceeded for 186 days between April and October of 1993.
“I truly believe that during a disaster you see the worst in people and the best of people,” Kueker said. “I saw both. I appreciate what the people of the county did and how they worked together back then. It took years to rebuild and there was a lot of blood, sweat, and tears and we got through it together.”