Sunday, March 9, 1997
Disaster started
flow of tough times

The Cincinnati Enquirer

There are two things Becky Plummer does before she leaves her house for any reason.

First she checks to make sure there are plenty of packing boxes in the shed. Then, she grabs her photo albums and stashes them in her car.

Such are the rituals that arose from ''the worst time'' of her life - the Great Flood of 1993.

Fed by months of heavy precipitation, the Mississippi River and its tributaries flooded the Midwest, plowing through homes and businesses, ripping apart roads and sewer systems and leaving tens of thousands of people devastated. The flood left nearly 50 people dead and caused $12 billion in damage.

But as frightening as it was, high water was just the beginning of many Midwesterners' misery.

''I've been watching the Weather Channel every day, and I know what you all are going through,'' said Mrs. Plummer, 30, a mother of two from Amazonia, Mo., who lost her home to the flood. ''I hate to say this, but it's going to get worse.''

Months of work

For many, recovering from the flood meant months of tearing up carpets, ripping down walls, scrubbing mud-stained floors and carrying the house's soggy, smelly innards out to the trash pile.

But for Mrs. Plummer, it meant moving. Her home too wrecked to save, Mrs. Plummer and her family moved to higher ground nearby. But the stress of the move paled in comparison to the depression she sank into after the waters receded.

''We lost everything we owned, but thank God I had my family to lean on,'' she said. ''It was unbelievably rough.''

Few know that as well as Vern Bauman, who led flood-fighting efforts in Sainte Genevieve, Mo.

''It was like taking a tiger by the tail,'' said the 56-year-old former local levee district president. ''Once you start, you can't stop - although I don't know that a lot of us would have grabbed that tiger if we knew what we were getting into.''

Teamwork paid off

What they got into was fighting the flood water off so successfully that only about 120 families - of the town's 4,500 residents - lost their homes.

Residents used 1.1 million sandbags, 200,000 tons of rock, thousands of sheets of plastic and 40 tractor-trailer loads of concrete highway dividers to stave off raging water for about 40 days, Mr. Bauman said. Much of the makeshift levee wasn't torn down for more than a year.

Today, the historic French town continues its recovery. ''I don't know that we have got on with our lives yet,'' Mr. Bauman said.

About a dozen flood-ravaged homes still stand, remnants of a recovery where funding hasn't kept pace with residents' determination.

Officials now are preparing to build a permanent levee around the town, funded by $42 million in federal money, Mr. Bauman said. It will be big enough to protect it from another surge the size of the '93 flood.

Such help would be welcomed by people like Melvin Fick of Chesterfield, Mo., whose crops were wiped out by the flood.

''Hopefully you'll get the volunteer help and government money that we got after the '93 flood. And hopefully that help and money won't stop coming when the flood quits making the headlines.''