26 YEARS AGO: Looking back on the historic Iowa flooding of 1993

Local News

It’s officially been 26 years since one of the biggest natural disasters in Iowa history occurred: The historic flooding of 1993.

The flooding forced hundreds of thousands of Iowans from their homes, damaged millions of dollars worth of property around the state and even left Des Moines without safe drinking water for nearly three weeks.

What caused the flooding?

It was a combination of a variety of factors, but it was most-heavily influenced by a very wet winter and spring that year. Heavy snow and heavy rain caused river levels to rise. Then, heavy summer rains eventually sent the rivers into major flood stage. The water became so high that barriers and levees were ultimately no match for its power.

Timeline of the flooding

  • July 9: The floodwaters begin to cause major problems across central Iowa. People from all parts of central Iowa are starting to evacuate their homes in search of shelter and higher ground. I-80 and I-35 both are closed down as a result of floodwaters. Iowa State University cancels summer classes due to the severe ongoing flooding in Ames.
  • July 10: More metro communities begin to experience severe flooding. Court Avenue and surrounding areas of downtown Des Moines begin to flood. West Des Moines also deals with significant flooding, and families are leaving their homes in droves. The barriers protecting Valley Junction from flooding fail, sending high water into the district.
  • July 11: Perhaps the most notable event of the 1993 flooding occurred on this day. Des Moines Water Works begins to flood, leaving hundreds of thousands of Iowans without any tap water. Thousands are also without electricity. Safe drinking water would not be available in the Des Moines metro for nearly 3 weeks.
  • July 12: All of Iowa is declared a disaster area.

The aftermath

The floodwaters took days to begin receding, but the cleanup process would last for months. Tap water was not restored to the metro area until two weeks after the initial Water Works flood, and it was not deemed “safe” to drink until a week after its restoration.

Iowa was just one area impacted by the Great Flood of 1993. The flooding impacted many other states in the midwest, and is still recognized as one of the costliest natural disasters in U.S. history.

In total, the midwestern flood recovery cost $15 billion.

While so many years have passed since this historic time, most Iowans still reflect on the catastrophe that captured Iowa that summer. Measures have been put in place to help prevent this type of event in the future, and to help mitigate potential flooding threats. However, the Flood of 1993 should always serve as a sobering reminder that Iowans should always be prepared in case disaster strikes again.

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