(AP Photo/John Gaps III)
I can still remember the smell.
I didn’t even realize that the 20th anniversary of the Great Flood of 1993 had arrived today until I heard it mentioned on the news. It brought back so many memories.
Back in 1993, I lived in Valley Junction, one of the areas hardest hit by the floods. I was 15 years old and had just finished my freshman year at Valley High School. My family lived on 4th Street in West Des Moines, but a bit north of “downtown” Valley Junction. Because of our location, we were spared any great damage as the flood waters swallowed up much of the Junction. The flood waters stretched to about a block from my house. In the days after the flooding, I would walk down the street towards Legion Park and look at all of the homes, some of them belonging to friends from school, that were under a foot of water. They were the only ones I could see, because you didn’t want to walk further down the road where houses were under 4 and 5 feet of water. It was incredible to see homemade signs in people’s yards that said “No Wake” and “Tourists Go Home.” There were definitely a lot of gawkers that came to see the damage for themselves.
At the time, my uncle Larry was the head of the West Des Moines Water Works. As it’s well known, much of the city lost water during the floods. I remember going with my family to the West Des Moines Water Treatment Plant and helping to sandbag. It was a frightening and hopeful scene at the same time. Dozens and dozens of residents were fighting together to save their water.
I remember what a big deal it was that President Bill Clinton came to tour the damage. There was a water station set up in the parking lot of the old Valley Stadium, now Hillside Elementary School. Long, long lines of people gathered to get basic necessities including water. I think everyone in Valley Junction had a few of the white cans labeled “WATER” in large, black, generic lettering from Anheuser Busch. I think we kept ours for years after. My parents may well still have them.
After the flood waters receded, there was the smell. Dead fish. The whole of Valley Junction smelled of dead fish for weeks. When I would walk down the street into areas that previously had 2-3 feet of water covering them days before, all around I could see dead worms and small fish that had previously lived in the river. You could see water lines on many of the houses. Some of them reaching to the middle of living room windows. It was a sad time for our city and for our neighborhood.
When I drive around my old neighborhood now, I can still tell which houses were simply repaired and which ones were completely gutted and rebuilt. Valley Junction is a really nice neighborhood with great businesses and friendly people. Those same people all joined together for a common purpose 20 years ago and I think the neighborhood has been stronger ever since.