On this day in 1993, the levee holding back the flooding Mississippi River at Kaskaskia, Illinois, ruptures, forcing the town’s people to flee on barges. The Mississippi flood of 1993 caused $18 billion in damages and killed 52 people.
From June through August 1993, the midwestern United States received far more rainfall than normal, particularly in the northern region, where water feeds into both the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. The unusually heavy rainfall led to severe flooding, particularly along the Illinois and Missouri shores. In all, more than 1,000 levees burst in late July.
The incident at Kaskaskia was the most dramatic event of the flood. The town, virtually an island, was protected by a levee that the town attempted to shore up even after the bridge connecting the town to the riverside was wiped out by the rising river. At 9:48 a.m., the levee broke, leaving the people of Kaskaskia with no escape route other than two Army Corp of Engineers barges. By 2 p.m., the entire town was underwater.
When the Quincy, Illinois, levee broke, there was no way to cross the Mississippi River for 250 miles north of St. Louis. In Grafton, Illinois, flood waters reached two stories high. Other towns had better luck–in St. Genevieve, Missouri, the entire town turned out to raise the levee. Prisoners were even brought in to assist the effort. The river crested at a record 49 feet, just two feet below the improved levee.
The flood inundated 1 million acres of prime farm land and wreaked havoc on the area’s economy. Miles of wheat fields were too saturated to harvest that season. In addition, the herbicides from the farms washed down the river and severely damaged fish farms in Louisiana. Many other people lost their jobs when barge traffic on the river was suspended for two months.
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