There is a picture on the wall in my kitchen of a house in the Kansas River. It is a picture I show guests often, and their apparent awe is always the same.
It is ironic to be reminiscing about the Flood of 1993 when for the past two years I’ve done little more than pray for rain. But 2013 marks the 20th anniversary of that event, which had a profound impact on so many of us.
We didn’t think much of the rain when it began in early spring of 1993. Our crops were growing well. Our young children were involved in many activities. But as time went on and the storms broke night after night, we kept our eyes on the nearby creek and our ears alert to news regarding towns along Midwest waterways. Our home is in the lowest point of the valley and just a quarter mile from the Kansas River. It’s an ideal place for farm ground when conditions are right.
Tuttle Creek Dam was erected after the Flood of 1951. We felt a sense of protection and security until mid-July, when officials started calling the Flood of 1993 a “once in 500 year event.” When the dam’s floodgates were opened, we knew water would reach our home. We didn’t know how much. We moved everything we could from the ground level to the next floor. Only a few items, such as precious photo-graphs, accompanied us when we left.
All the houses in our area were supplied with sandbags. They ended up being useless. The river broke over its banks, devouring our cropland and making islands of our homes. The force of a swollen river is not something you can tame, and the sound that it makes rushing in the night is not something you forget.
We were told to evacuate in the evening and were lucky to find a hotel room in town. After two nights at a hotel, we were invited to spend as much time as we needed in a family friend’s finished basement. This woman had actually owned our home during the 1951 flood. At 90, Mrs. Ida McGehee was a beautiful soul who lived a selfless life and never thought twice about harboring our family.
The children were young. My daughter was 6 and my son was 4. They found living in Mrs. McGehee’s home an adventure. The delight of living in town just a couple of blocks from City Pool for a few weeks made the event more of a vacation than a refugee situation for them. While I dealt with the Red Cross and FEMA, they swam.
For a time, we were able to drive to high ground about a mile from our home and helplessly observe it in the distance, its image surreally reflected in the water.
From that point on, my husband and I viewed every-thing differently, appreciating that what mattered most was simply being together as a family. Facing the flood’s aftermath might stress us but never break us.
The house we returned to after three weeks showed more signs of being part of the river bottom than it did of being part of our love and care for years. Around it, a layer of silt was drying for as far as the eye could see. A pungent odor lingered in the air for weeks. Every bush, plant and tree we had grown had drowned. Our crops were gone. The only living things were the snakes and frogs in rooms we had abandoned. The bathtub-like ring around both interior and exterior walls indicated that about three feet of river had stood in our living room. The damage was intense, but nothing that couldn’t be fixed in time. It was a mess, but no one had been hurt or lost, and we felt fortunate.
From floods to droughts, I’ve learned to respect Mother Nature. Natural disasters have a way of bringing you to the truth of what is lasting and what is temporary. In Kansas, weather patterns change, but the love and strength of family remain. There will be much to celebrate in 2013, but the 20th anniversary of the Flood of ’93 is one event we will simply recall in awe.
Mary Mertz works for her family’s farming operation east of Manhattan.