ALL floods are local. The great Midwestern flood of 1993, however, may not be remembered as much for the local damage it caused as for what it started.
At the top of the start list put a national outpouring of friendship and support. Tens of thousands of volunteers and communities rallied day and night to save towns, houses, and farmlands. If the energy they generated could be measured, the result would be seismic.
The symbol of their triumph should be a golden sandbag, more valuable than a Superbowl ring.
Addresses and phone numbers have been traded, tears and laughter shared, and many lifelong exchanges of Christmas cards seem likely. Six months from now the Associated Press will probably report that a romance started on a sandbagging line somewhere in Iowa has led to marriage in the spring.
Congress and President Clinton are at work to establish and approve the amounts of flood relief for farmers and homeowners. "If the United States can show a lot of support for Kuwait," said Emerald Loida, a farmer in Ste. Genevieve, "then I think we've got to help the good people of the Midwest."
From Washington D.C. to Midwestern state houses, the flood has started critical discussions about long-range policy solutions. How can flood and crop insurance laws be improved and strictly enforced? Should any kind of development continue on flood plains? Should there be more or less levee construction along the Mississippi? To what degree can vital wetlands in the Mississippi basin be restored? Should the policies and practices of the US Army Corps of Engineers be examined in light of what was learned from the flood?
In short, how will a new respect for the might of the Mississippi be shown? To Don Kuhn, who has lived in the same house in Ste. Genevieve for 71 years, the causes of the flooding lie in two of man's legendary shortcomings.
"Money and greed," he says, standing on the porch of his sandbagged house. "We couldn't leave the river alone. The farmers had to get all the land they could along side it, and the US Army Corps of Engineers had to keep telling everybody how great the levees are."