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St. Louis Regional history comes alive in this joint production by KDHX and the Missouri Historical Society. Stories of our past are connected with the present in these well researched and entertaining short presentations about the people, places, and events that have shaped who we are and who we are becoming. 

Jul 29, 2022

Flooding has historically been frequent in the St. Louis region, including the 1844 and 1993 floods, which are probably the most famous. In 1903 another major flood took its toll on the eastern side of the river. Just press play to hear the whole story.----- 

Click on search links to see if there are episodes with related content: Adam Kloppe, Environmental History, East St. Louis, Engineering, Mississippi River, Natural Disaster, Rivers, Disaster,

Podcast Transcript: I'm Adam Kloppe, Public Historian at the Missouri History Museum, and Here’s History on 88.1 KDHX. ———

If you've lived in the St. Louis area long enough, you were sure to have some experience with floods. The city is situated near the confluence of the two greatest rivers on the continent, the Missouri and the Mississippi, and the area has seen its share of devastating floods that have wiped out homes and businesses and farms over the years. ———

Stories of the greatest of these floods, like the floods of 1844 and 1993, are told time and time again. But other historic floods have been just as damaging to the St. Louis area. In 1903 in fact, East St. Louis faced the most devastating flood it has ever seen. That year, the Missouri River flooded its banks, devastating towns throughout Kansas and Missouri as the high water swept through. As the floodwaters from the Missouri rushed into the Mississippi in early June of 1903, the levees on the eastern side of the river began to give way as the river reached heights of 38 feet. Smaller towns on the river were completely washed away. Still, officials in East St. Louis were confident that they would stay dry. Over the years, streets had been elevated and levees and dikes have been built to help protect the city. None of that preparation was the payoff however. ———

On June 6, both the Madison County and Cahokia levees broke, even as men tirelessly worked to raise them. A few days later, on June 10, the last protection that East St. Louis had, a causeway that had been built by the Illinois Central Railroad line, gave way. Water rushed into the city, which at the time had a population of over 34,000 people. Some men with lanterns and pistols ran through the streets, firing into the air to wake their neighbors and warning them of the incoming water. Other folks made their way to the rooftops of houses and factories, often with their only remaining possessions as the clothes on their backs. Many others weren't even that lucky as dozens of people were lost in the floodwaters. ———

Over the ensuing hours, hasty efforts were made to rescue the stranded East St. Louisans. Boats were constructed to try to rescue those who have been trapped by the high waters. Once folks were rescued, they were taken to refugee camps for food and shelter. Some St. Louisans from the western edge of the Mississippi were a part of that rescue effort, as they gave money to flood relief efforts or offered their boats to help pick up refugees. Others weren't so helpful, and they made their way to the Eads Bridge to stand above the swollen banks of the river and take in the scenes of devastation. ———

Overall, the papers estimated that the damage done to East St. Louis would total over $16 million dollars. After cleanup from the flood was over, East St. Louis erected higher levees to keep out future floodwaters. These levees have been improved several times over the years and have worked to keep the city mostly dry as the years have passed. ———

Here's History is a joint production of the Missouri History Museum and KDHX. I'm Adam Kloppe and this is 88.1 KDHX St. Louis. ———

St. Louis is no stranger to floods. Stories of the greatest of these catastrophes, like the floods of 1844 and 1993, are told time and time again. But a lesser known one, which happened in 1903, nearly destroyed East St. Louis.