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This time in history: Remembering the Great Flood of 1993

  • Published
  • By Kris C. Matthews, 375th Air Mobility Wing Historian

Responding to flood disasters is nothing new for the Air Force and the Mobility Air Forces in particular. With rescue and relief operations to aid numerous people, foreign and domestic, the mobility community is well-versed in such missions.  Scott AFB and the surrounding community is not immune to floods, and evidence of assistance to the local community exists all the way back to at least World War II. However, 30 years ago this summer, the Illinois and Missouri region suffered one of the most devastating flood events in history: The Great Flood of 1993. From May through September that year, the flood covered nine states and 400,000 square miles. Three decades later, it remains the worst river flooding the U.S. has ever seen, with hundreds of levees failing and $15 billion in damages incurred.

While the impacts held off on the local area throughout May and June (which saw Scott’s air show bring in 85,000 members of the local community), by early July the waters were rising. Over 800 Team Scott volunteers jumped to the aid of neighbors in Illinois and Missouri. Working 12-to-15-hour days in temperatures over 90 degrees, these volunteers filled tens of thousands of sandbags and built thousands of feet of walls, keeping the floodwaters from causing even more damage to homes and businesses.   

The Defense Mapping Agency in St. Louis was particularly vulnerable. Today known as the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, DMA’s mission was to consolidate all U.S. military mapping activities. With its sensitive equipment, and of course thousands of paper maps, DMA saw water rise more than 30 feet above normal levels in July 1993. Over 60 Scott volunteers helped fortify the area, resulting in 47-foot-high concrete and sandbag walls around the facility. They moved out what they could and sandbagged around the heavy printing equipment they couldn’t; DMA estimated this prevented four feet of water from entering the building. Unfortunately, the focus on building up the wall was the wrong decision: water would eventually penetrate the wall and enter the building, resulting in the loss of over 30,000 maps.

“The attitude has been great through this whole ordeal,” said Col. Rich Glorioso, commander of the 375th Logistics Group and leader of the Scott volunteers at the time. “Everyone has been rushing to get things done.” 

Sgt. Frank Tellez 375th Transportation Squadron, was looking forward to helping with the recovery phase of the disaster. “I’m anxious to help people get out of those shelters and back into their homes,” he said. “It’s hard to imagine what they must be going through – I have electricity and I have water.”

Some Scott civilians were mobilized to assist in their capacity as Air National Guardsmen and Air Force Reservists. ANG Security Policemen were tasked to secure affected areas to prevent looting and helped evacuate a mobile home park after the levy broke and water began rising.

“It was a good feeling helping our fellow Americans in a time when they needed us most,” said Senior Airman Matthew Mihelcic, who was recalled to his position with the Missouri Air National Guard from his civilian position with Scott’s legal office. Many reservists of the Reserve’s 932nd Aeromedical Airlift Group put in several days of work during their annual training period, filling and hauling sandbags.

The 375th Medical Group gave out hundreds of immunization shots against tetanus, typhoid, and hepatitis A to protect volunteers from the hazards of contact with floodwater. The 375th Transportation Squadron ran buses to the various work sites. Air Mobility Command also provided assistance by airlifting sandbags, water purification systems, and other relief supplies via C-141 and C-5 aircraft.  

By September, the waters were beginning to subside but a tremendous amount of work remained to be done. Scott would continue sending volunteers to help with the recovery.