The Great Flood of 1993

We live on an area they call Sugar Lake named for the Sugar Maples that use to line it. The official name is Lewis & Clark Lake since the explorers once camped along it's shores. There is a State Park on one end and the rest of the lake is private homeowners.
We are not naive people. Our lake is located where the Missouri river bends around 3 sides of it. We are well aware that  setting so close to the river we are  in  what is called a Flood Plain. Meaning that this area is a pressure release for the water when the river runs high. On average it use to flood once every 10 years or so. But those floods were from the actual lake rising due to the locks, a flood gate, that connects to the river. When those waters came in it was a slow rise. Taking maybe a week and were what we locally called  "Counter level floods" meaning the water never got higher than the counters in your kitchen. The water would come up to that level and then within a day start dropping back again until it was gone. You always had plenty of time to remove your possessions before it came and when it was over people would go back in, hose out and clean their homes , and go back to living. 
A crazy exisistance I admit  and people wonder why we do it. But to live with the privacy and  beauty of the lake, the geese, the gulls and the water makes life wonderful.
A neighbor was asked one day at work where he was going on his upcoming vacation. He said nowhere. He was staying home. They laughed and said he was suppose to go somewhere. His response..."I live where people go on vacation! "
That's the beauty of living here.
I always found it curious that people would ask us during the time of floods, Why don't you move? But I'm sure that question was never asked of anyone who was hit by a tornado. Natural disasters are part of life. Ours just happens to involve water.

And so you see how the people here felt...until the summer of 1993.
When you live along the river you are accustomed to keeping track of it's levels. There are levies built all along it and are maintained by levy committees consisting of locals & farmers who mow it and maintain it's strength. We all donate to these committees and rely on them for any news of an impending rise in water. And so it was that summer. We knew that spring thaw far north of us was heavy that year. The Dakotas had received alot of snow. With the advent of warm weather that melt empties into the Missouri and makes it's way downstream. It's not the weather here that causes's what comes down the river from the north. Our spring had been slightly wetter here that year also and the lake level was already high tho still in its banks. But the river was rising and people were doing small things just in case.
By the 4th of July the lake had now made it's way up onto the lake fronts. Just a couple of feet but a warning none the less. Still people celebrated and along with all the rest of the holiday activities the kids were catching tadpoles in the yards.My husband was out on tour and called every day to ask about the levels and how I was holding up.

The following few days changed everything.  The news that the levy had been topped and river water was pouring over was shocking. The levies here had held since the 1940's and that was a direction we had not been expecting water to come from. While the water had always come from the lakeside in the past, this was coming from behind us.(We were told later by some of the levy members that the sightseers had turned up in boats when the water first breached and the props on their boats just tore up the top of the levies more.) I have no pictures of the mad dash to empty the house and tie things down since photo taking was not at the top of my list. People scrambled to find storage lockers in nearby towns and rushed to pack trucks and trailers. It was crazy trying to get everything and everyone out especially when word got out on the local radio stations that our area was going under. The sightseers turned up to drive by , but offering no assistance, and clogged the lake road with their traffic making it even harder to make quick trips emptying your home. By the time we were making the last truck run out our garage on the back lot had water pooled all around it and the low spots on the road had running streams across it. Time had run out.

When the levy finally gave you could here the rush of water like a roaring waterfall. It was so loud! The pressure behind the levy was so strong and had such exploding force of water, mud and sand  that the surrounding farmlands  are still unusable today.
This was not a "normal" flood. This one contained fast moving river current and it was taking everything in its path. The open homes were damaged badly and homes like ours, that had the protection of the woods behind us to slow the current, still took alot of pressure.
We ended up having water in our home for over 3 weeks, with half of that time the water standing as high as a foot deep in our attic. I sent my 9 year old son to stay with his grandparents but
I rode the flood out in our attic loft until the second week when the attic floor boards started floating. Then I moved into a neighbors house up the lake that sat on higher ground. By the last week I was living in a camper on the highway that sits above our lake. Thru it all I stayed. I stayed to watch that nothing drifted into our home, or things that were tied did not float away. I canoed around and  fed the cats that were trapped on garage roofs and checked peoples homes to report back to them. But mostly I stayed because at the end of it all this was my home. My husband Jeff is a musician and was touring the southern United States at this time and for contractual reasons was only able to come home for 2 day stretches. But given that during the flood there is nothing you can do but wait his visits were more for consolation . One night he came in late and the National Guard was not going to let him into the area. When he said his wife was in there and he was going in anyway they pulled their guns and said no one was there.  Fortunately one of the neighbors came out of their camper and told them that I was in there and that I was staying at the neighbors house on the high end. They let him thru but offered  no assistance getting him to me. He stripped to his swimming suit and holding his clothes above his head waded into the dirty water.

And so we come to the pictures:

Here is the first week of rising water level. My husband had told me to leave the water in our above ground pool to equalize the pressure. As you can see, the water rose high enough to win that battle. The pool lifted up and floated to the house. One morning while looking down from the attic window, (notice the ladder),  I saw 10+ snakes sunbathing on the pool deck. Kind like "Club Flood"  Not a site I want to ever see again.
You can also see the waves had already started to tear up the inside shades.
Here is our garage on our back lot. The orange you see is our living room carpet.
When the water first started coming in my husband and I pulled it up so it would not be impossible to get out later. This carpet ended up acting as a band-aid holding our garage roof together and keeping it from floating away.  The flotsam you see in the foreground is stuff just drifting by with the current.
This is our tri-hull boat Jeff had been rebuilding. We loaded all the kids outdoor toys on it thinking it would just ride it out. Tho sitting on a trailer it's also tied 6 feet off the ground to the tree on the left.  When we saw that the boat was starting to be pulled under we had to empty everything into the canoe and take it out to the pontoon we had tied up. The current was so strong that we would canoe up to the tree where I would wrap my arms around a branch and hold us while Jeff loaded the toys in, then we would let go and the current would shoot us out toward the lake where the pontoon was. We did this about 7 times till the boat was empty.  By the way this was my other snake encounter. While holding onto the branch I noticed the tree was full of snakes. I had to close my eyes and pray they left me alone...yuck!. The water rose so high later that the rope sunk the boat.
Now the levels are so high it's a mad race to empty the attic. Here we have our flotilla of boats butted up to the attic window. Jeff is inside navigating floating floorboards and handing stuff out to me. Notice the trees in the background with their upper branches floating in the current. Water as far as the eye could see. And the water keeps rising. Our roof seen below.
And the garage goes under.
Our second cabin looked like it had weathered fairly well until the water started to go down. Then we saw that the current had totally taken out the east wall of the garage and the water was the only thing holding it up. As the water went did the garage roof.
As the water drops the damage begins to show. And although we knew  the havoc that 3 weeks of being under water would create we forgot what else was going to be there....

And just to give you some perspective on the water level the picture insert is of the back of the basketball backboard taken during the flood. The same backboard you see 9 year old Beaux walking past in the photo. And even in the photo it's 5 feet behind him. Also keep in mind that on this side of the house the flood left over a foot of solid river mud on the ground.
But wait it gets better....
We finally got inside to take a look...
  • In photo1 is an inset platform that my large side by side refrigerator sat on. This platform was 8 inches off the ground. As you can see the mud almost reached the ledge from the floor, not to mention what was settled on it.
  • In photo2 you can see the cabinets closest to where the current had entered the house. This area had the smallest amount of mud but it was still 8 inches thick.
  • In photo 3 you see the extent of mud and damage we saw when we looked thru the door. On the floor is the ceiling panels and 2 feet of mud along with a collection old antique pitchers my mother had left me. They had been on a shelf that was 10 inches from the ceiling. Jeff was kind enough to literally take out the mud scoop by scoop until he had saved my antiques. They had gently floated down and all but one was intact. I was very lucky.
More Mud, almost to the window sills, the exposed ceiling and Jeff, soaked with sweat from the humidity, cleans by
Kerosene lamp light.
And so the clean up progresses. Those white barrels are full of water and bleach. You haven't lived til you smell flood mud and cleaner
To this day the smell of bleach  still turns my stomach.
The water level would fluctuate as it went down. Sometimes rising slightly again and chasing us out. But always dropping more after. The thin tree line you see immediately behind Jeff & Beaux is the Lake front. The lake should be behind those trees. The boys are washing off the mud they incurred cleaning.
And so Jeff started construction. In the midst of building the new house our 3rd child arrived.
Sky Blue Lux.
Named because with all that had happened his creation came out of the sky
We have ended up with a beautiful home that is exactly 4 feet above what the water level hit in 93 and, as you see below, nature brought back everything she had taken away.
And even the second cabin survived (below) ..tho without a is now home to our son Beaux. Here she is with the new house in the background looking over her...and what happened to the original cabin???...
I put this small collection of pictures together to try and give a taste of what happened to us and many others who lived along the Missouri River at the time of what they now call the
"1000 year flood".
But first a little explanation...
Well she sits in the shadow of the new place and is now used only for storage.  But she survived and flourished in her new use. As everything and everyone else also did. We all go on and evolve..a resillient species aren't we???
In the end all we had really lost was "Stuff". We all were safe and healthy. It's not an experience I would wish on anyone but in the end we all felt stronger for surviving it.

I do want to say a BIG thank you to the Salvation Army who provided meals, tetnas shots, cleaning supplies and smiles thru the entire ordeal for the entire Sugar Lake Community..

We never saw the Red Cross once!
Looking out our great room window we realize someone is looking  in.....
I love the lake!!!

Home page