Twenty-five years later, reflecting on the Great Flood of 1993

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COLUMBIA - Fifty people died, nine states were affected and damages totaled more than $15 billion in the Flood of 1993.

Twenty-five years later, signs of the flood are still visible in mid-Missouri. The terrain along Highways 54 and 63 were forever changed by the massive flood.

"For counties and counties you could travel in our viewing area, which is a large area, everywhere you go someone was either directly impacted by the flood waters or directly impacted with not having the ability to go to their grocery store, to go to their market, to their school," former KOMU 8 News Reporter Sarah Hill said.

For the 25th anniversary of the flood, KOMU 8 News took a look back the stories we told. 

"We were running around in flood waters in high heels capturing some truly amazing, but heartbreaking stories of the Flood of 93," Hill said. 

Hill was a student reporter at the time. One of her very first on-air live shots happened when officials thought the Missouri River bridge was going to explode. 

"They were afraid that a propane tank that had been shaken loose by floodwaters was going to hit one of the rafters and blow up," she said.

Hill said officials came over a two-way radio and warned reporters to get to a safe place.

"So you can imagine, as a young reporter, this is one of the first stories they had ever covered, you know, doing that live shot with my hand shaking, talking about the bridge behind us is in danger of exploding," she said.

Hill said that day helped define her career.

"It was the most memorable moment, but it was the most threatened that I felt in my entire journalism career was hearing at that moment that the bridge could explode from that propane tank," she said.

The station's former News Director, Stacey Woelfel, remembers many emotions in the newsroom that summer. 

"I saw excitement because the reporters were excited to cover a story this big," he said. "A lot of students who covered that that summer have gone on to have some of the best careers we’ve seen from our former students."

Woelfel said the majority of the stories covered during the summer of '93 were flood stories.

"We were inventing new ways to cover this as we went along," he said. 

Hill wasn't just affected by the flood in a professional sense, but in her personal life as well.

"I had never seen it inside someone’s home, take away their possessions, their pets, their lives and their livelihood as well," she said.

Her parent's house in Canton was hit.

"My parents were also displaced during the flood of 93," she said. "They were out of their home for weeks. So you’re covering it as a journalist, all the while knowing that those same flood waters are also impacting your family."

Woelfel covered many big national stories in his career, but said none were as big as the Flood of 1993.

"I worked in Florida when the Challenger blew up," he said. "But because this one went on so long and tried everybody’s ability to cover it the way it did, I can’t think of anything that matches it."

Another big story coming out of the flood was the volunteers and the disaster relief. 

The former director of the Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri, Peggy Kirkpatrick, said most people in mid-Missouri didn't even know the food bank existed before the flood.

"The food bank was a little hole in the wall," she said. "We had 315 dollars in the bank and no food in the warehouse."

In the first six weeks of the disaster relief, the food bank received more than $100,000 and distributed over three million pounds of food. 

"We started with our one little warehouse of 9,000 square feet, which rapidly was filled up with food and supplies," Kirkpatrick said. "Then we had two other warehouses donated to us."

Kirkpatrick recalled an encounter with a Red Cross director in a small town in North Carolina.

"She called me and she said, 'Could you use supplies?' and I said 'Absolutely'," Kirkpatrick said. 

Volunteers had been working 24 hours a day gathering and distributing supplies out of completely full warehouses.

The Red Cross director told Kirkpatrick she had three semi trucks full of food, cleaning supplies and clothing.

"I was thinking 'All of our warehouses are jammed, but since it is coming from North Carolina, we have at least three days to prepare,'" she said.

When Kirkpatrick asked when the supplies would arrive, she was shocked to hear the answer on the other line of the phone: tomorrow morning.

The director had told the truck drivers, all volunteers, to get on the road and start driving west until she told them to stop or turn around.

Exhausted, Kirkpatrick went home and did what she did most every night during the disaster relief, she prayed.

"I said, 'This is your problem, God'," she said.

To her surprise, when she went into work the next morning, the owner of Boone County Millwork was sitting in her office. 

"Before I could put my purse away, he says 'Peggy, do you need a warehouse?' and I'm looking up and thanking God and I said, 'Yes Howard. I do'," she said. 

Ten minutes before the semi trucks full of supplies rolled into Columbia, the lights were on and the floors were swept in the empty 20,000 square foot warehouse.

"That was the Flood of '93 to me, miracle after miracle after miracle," Kirkpatrick said. 

Before the flood, the food bank charged for its services, but the scope of the disaster in 1993 changed that.

"The service area was so devastated," Kirkpatrick said. "We couldn’t tell which people were victims of disaster relief and which were just in need."

The food bank became one of two in the nation to give out food and supplies free of charge.

"If there was a silver lining, the flood literally propelled the food bank into the leadership role of disaster relief," Kirkpatrick said. 

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