The Midwest flood of April to October 1993 is arguably the greatest flood to have hit the United States in terms of coverage and duration. It occurred in the Midwest region where there is a confluence of Mississippi, Illinois and Missouri rivers. It covered “400,000 square miles affecting states like Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota, and South Dakota…
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The total damages amounted to $15 billion, 50 people lost their lives, thousands were evacuated, and hundreds of levees were broken” (Leavesley 13). The fact that measures had been taken to mitigate effects of flooding (like building of levees and reservoirs) caused uproar over disaster preparedness.
This led to a lot of research and data collection, which should have led to better preparedness for an even greater flooding disaster, but has it? A quick search in the internet reveals a lot of information present about this disaster ranging from photo’s of submerged houses (mainly from the press) to publications of the event.
Further, data and maps are available which were compiled by the scientific assessment and strategy team (SAST) put in place by the then president Clinton that underline the progress made in flood mitigation. The media played an important role in keeping all people informed on the developments taking place in the flooded region.
However, media may be accused of being interested more in generating controversy other than just reporting. For instance, they frequently quoted Mark Twain to stress their point. Twain had said that, “man’s work on the Mississippi river meant to control it was in vain then and in future” (263). The media may have been trying to call attention to the situation but it ended up stifling the morale of those who hoped to overcome the problem.
The flood was caused by increased wetness in the whole region that can be traced back to 1992 when there was an increase in the snowfall during winter. The thawing of the ice coupled with enhanced rainfall over the area set the stage for a flood of major proportions.
The floods began in spring 1993 and continued through summer and fall. At least “10,000 homes, 75 towns, and 15 million acres of farmland were inundated” (Leavesley 13). The effect on the infrastructure was greater with the state highway department, state, local and city government requesting Federal Emergency Management Administration over $258 million for highway repairs (Parola, Hagerty, and Kamojjala 3).
However, the flood favored the ecosystem as more aquatic species thrived. Even the species affected at first did well in the long term (Sparks 34). Unfortunately, the thriving of some species like the mosquito, which are vectors of human diseases, made the situation worse. Although human intervention was critical (like the response of the Federal Emergency Management Administration), it also had its bad side.
According to Sparks, the harm was caused more by human factors than by the flood itself; “catastrophic failure of the levees, damping of hazardous material in the flood plain and dispersion of introduced pests” (34). This negative human impact lessened as the floods subsided. The breakdown of several agricultural levees also made the situation worse; at least they should have been made to the specifications similar to the urban levees that withstood the flood.
The handling of this event had shortcomings and so measures were taken to ensure better handling the next time a disaster strikes. Moreover, the floods led to the “creation of the Iowa’s section 409 plan which is a comprehensive document dealing with all aspects of disaster management” (Godschalk 194).
The document was developed through efforts of local and state government agencies and professionals. The key lesson learnt through this event was that no preparations are entirely adequate and mitigation measures are necessary. With these measures, the impact of such events will be reduced.
Godschalk, David. Natural hazard mitigation: Recasting disaster policy and planning. Washington DC: Island Press, 1999.
Leavesley, George. Destructive Water: Water-caused Natural Disasters, their Abatement and Control. Oxfordshire: International Association of Hydrological Sciences, 1997.
Parola, Arthur, Hagerty, Duke, and Kamojjala, Sloane. Highway Infrastructure Damage Caused by the 1993 Upper Mississippi River Basin Flooding. Washington DC: National Cooperative Highway Research Program, 1998.
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Sparks, Richard. The Great Flood of 1993: Long term Approaches to the Management Of the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers Including Lessons Learned and Information Gaps. Illinois: Dane publishing, 1994.
Twain, Mark. Life on the Mississippi. London: Harper and Row Publishers, 1961