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Examiner
  • Kenneth Kieser: Recalling the '500-year flood'

  • I once tried to swim the Missouri River on a warm spring day when water currents were swift and the river level was high. My two high school chums and I, all strong swimmers who swam daily on Lake Waukomis, a private lake north of Kansas City, made it to the middle before unspeakably strong currents grabbed our skinny bodies and washed us downstream.

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  • I once tried to swim the Missouri River on a warm spring day when water currents were swift and the river level was high. My two high school chums and I, all strong swimmers who swam daily on Lake Waukomis, a private lake north of Kansas City, made it to the middle before unspeakably strong currents grabbed our skinny bodies and washed us downstream.
    We tried to swim out, but were caught in the mighty Missouri's power; we only could go with the flow. The river decided not to claim us that day as currents finally pushed us to a rocky shoreline two miles downstream.
    That was my first taste of Old Man River's strength. I was a junior at Park Hill High School in 1970, the year when our swim took place. Only the grace of God prevented us from being a newspaper headline as we learned a vital lesson that day so when 1993 news reports spoke of big water coming and probable flooding, I already had great respect for the Missouri River.
    My daughter Holly and I drove to the river daily to watch it rise and creep closer to the sandbags. I spent two evenings in Parkville helping volunteers fill and stack sandbags to stop the approaching flood. Very few people actually realized what was about to happen and felt shocked when river waters slipped over our great piles of sandbags, flooding numerous shops and local businesses.
    No one dreamed of this devastating damage. Many other towns and areas along the river suffered the same fate, including Riverside, Mo, where my high school buddy, Zeke Young and his family with an army of associates fought to save their Red X Store – a fight they lost, as did many other Riverside businesses.
    I was a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America before and during the flood and knew conservationists from Washington, D.C. One suggested that I forward flood damage pictures to show Congress.
    I rode in boats with policemen and firemen for days and countless hours and snapped several hundred Kodachrome 64 slide shots in the days before high definition or digital photography existed. I only sent copies, but never heard a word of my photos’ fate or if Congress ever reviewed these images.
    Mike Bushnell, publisher of Northeast News-Kansas City, asked if I wanted to write a book about the 1993 flood late in 2012. The idea was to include as many stories as possible while using more then 80 of my photos and a few government agency shots. So, the book is now released with more than 100 flood photos and 17 chapters of stories.
    My hope is that readers will say, “Wow!” at least a dozen times while studying the photos and facts. This book is loaded with flood pictures and stories that will discuss unique weather patterns that caused the flood, a United States Presidential Citation, the flooding of an oxbow lake noted in the Lewis and Clark Journals, one of the biggest cemetery disasters in world history, flooding of a historic town, a flooded Air Force base, a town that was prepared and survived, European help, The Great Sheep Flotilla, and much more. I didn't find all the stories from the 1993 flood, but managed to find many of the highlights.
    Page 2 of 2 - A bright spot in my book is a long interview with Mike Thompson, chief meteorologist for Fox-4 WDAF-TV in Kansas City. He touched on the volcano and other extreme factors that created conditions for this “500-year flood.”
    “Many factors led to the 1993 flood,” Thompson said. “Mount Pinatubo, an equatorial volcano in the Philippines erupted the year before and spewed enough ash into the stratosphere to cool the entire globe for about four years. That year we had a lot of rain in June, but even more in July. The jet stream helped create 1993's heavy rains and the flood. ”
    The end result was more than 500 counties were affected by this same deluge and nine Midwestern states were declared disaster areas and that hundreds of secondary roads and a few major highways and airports would close. The Midwest had 17,000 square miles flooded; perhaps even worse, more than 30,000 jobs were lost. The flood damage in croplands would eventually drive up world food prices and the total damage caused by the great flood of 1993 would total over $20 billion in damages with at least 10,000 homes destroyed and 50 lives lost.
    There was no surprise that barge traffic on the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers was halted, but who would imagine that all railroad traffic in the Midwest would stop, resulting in more than $300 million dollars in losses. More than 75 towns or cities were flooded, either in part or completely. St. Louis and adjacent towns caught flood waters from both the Missouri and Mississippi rivers.
    I wrote this book in my 35th year as an outdoor communicator to serve as a reminder to future generations of the power and destruction that an old friend like the Missouri River can cause under extraordinary circumstances. Some called it the 500-year flood, claiming that much time before the big water returns. I witnessed the destruction and pray that it never happens again.
     
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