Water stood bluff to bluff in the Missouri River bottoms. Parkville and Riverside battled to save downtown areas. Roads were cut off, and we were a few more good rains away from real trouble.
Can you believe that it’s been 20 years since the Great Flood of 1993? I cannot.
Newcomers to PlatteCounty and the Kansas City area may wonder what the fuss is about when this flood is mentioned. But I will likely never let a decade anniversary pass without writing about it as long as I’m a working journalist. The Flood of ’93 was the most sweeping show of power by natural forces that I’ve ever witnessed. Parts of the County were permanently changed.
Rains fell frequently and heavy in late summer of 1992. It was the only year I’ve ever had decent brussel sprout production in a garden that I don’t water much after July. The paw paw trees enjoyed the moisture so much they produced a tremendous bumper crop in the woods. Usually the critters eat most of the paw paws before they fall. But so many were produced that summer that in autumn they lay rotting on the ground and the woods smelled like a winery for a few weeks.
Floods creeped out into the river bottoms in the spring of 1993. We didn’t think too much about it. That happens in spring and not very many people are affected. We don’t ponder much June rains, either. But an extra-heavy thunderstorm struck in late June and two people were killed by a flash flood in ClayCounty. In retrospect, the Flood of ’93 was primed the summer before and the official kickoff for me was that fatality.
At the time though, nobody worried about dark clouds rolling in from the southwest. Pastures were nice and green. Just before the Fourth of July, I was set to leave work early one day when KC Star editors called and asked me to go to BeanLake and cover flooding. It will pass, I assured them, the water there often threatens but never takes.
But then, thunderstorms seemed to arrive almost every day or night. Sometimes big rains would fall. If a storm missed the Northland, it was usually raining somewhere else in the upper basins of the Kansas, Missouri and Platte rivers. We had a historic flood on our hands.
Early in the flood I rode in a boat with someone from the Bean Lake area and we motored past the flooded houses in that community. We launched off of Missouri 45 highway near a parked bus used by the Platte County Sheriff’s Department as a command center. There were many more houses at Bean Lake then than now. Concern was expressed about water flowing over a low spot in the levee. Later, the water rose so high that levee height didn’t matter. The highway where we launched was way under water and the command center moved to the hills.