’93 FLOODS: Turning Hindsight Into Foresight

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The floods of `93 were the largest natural disaster the US had ever seen until Hurricane Katrina.

The Nightly News broadcast on July 14th 1993 came live from Des Moines, “The great floods of 1993 are beginning to look like a war zone as Des Moines tries desperately to repair its water supply system and President Clinton tours the devastated areas.”

20 years worth of hindsight should clarify any situation.  But if you`re not careful too much hindsight can give way to agony.

“If we would have known what we were battling, we would have probably taken different actions,”

No one has wrestled with 'what ifs' from `93 more than the man in charge of Des Moines` water treatment plant at the time.

“I say all the time someone is watching over me and guiding me all through my life.”

When L.D. McMullin thinks back, this is the first image he sees - Army Chinook helicopters brought in to rescue electric motors McMullin would eventually need to get the clean water pumping again.

“And the helicopter went to lift off and you could tell that he was not going to be able to lift that motor off and he went one way and then the other,” McMullin recounts.

Nobody realized how close the pilots had come to giving up, which would have made the disaster drag on for weeks.

“We were to the point that we said, `nope, we can`t lift it.  It`s just too heavy` and he said, `we made one more jiggle and it popped loose.’”

It`s just one example of how ‘93 could have been much worse.  Though, at the time that didn`t seem possible.

“My heart started pounding for people that really didn`t take this seriously,” Channel 13 meteorologist, Ed Wilson recounts.

Ed has always had a special relationship with our viewers and this week he had a special conversation on his social media pages.

ed wilson floods 93 facebook responses

The response has been overwhelming.  Most remember the night Ed delivered the news we could hardly believe.

“The Des Moines water supply will be cut off,” Ed announced live on-air.

The Channel 13 studios were running on a trickle of electricity powered by a back-up generator.  Just enough to put a picture into people`s homes, 24-7 with no commercial breaks.

“We could see what was coming into the station.  We couldn`t see thankfully what we looked like because there was no air conditioning, either.  Just kind of run with it and go with it,” Ed remembers.

Everybody has a story about that day the faucets were cut-off.  It was the day Dan and Chico Twelmeyer said 'I do.' Their wedding went off almost without a hitch thanks to a 500 gallon tank provided by the Iowa National Guard.

“I took the plunge in the flood, for wetter or for worse,” Dan jokes.

It`s easy to share the numerous memories social media now, but remember in `93 there was no Facebook and no twitter.  Back then, people were glued to L.D. McMullin`s news conferences.

Even the president.

“And it was right over here on the bridge on Fleur Drive and the president came down in the black SUV.  Secret Service looked all over and made sure everything was okay, came out, shook my hand, wanted to know how I was doing and everything,” McMullin recounts.

That was five presidential terms ago.  There have been countless American disasters, two major floods have devastated parts of Iowa since 93 but it still holds the title.

“It was the big one for me,” Ed Wilson says.

As soon as the water dried, McMullin and city leaders, the National Guard and the Army Corps of Engineers set about improving the system with taller, stronger levees, better forecasting tools, turning hindsight into foresight.

“So, we could take a flood of like `93 and do just fine.  We could take a bigger flood than `93 and do just fine,”

And after twenty years, we can look back with pride.