Life along the Mississippi

August 12, 1993

People who live along the Mississippi River have stoicly endured the wrath of its overflow as their homes, businesses and farms have been swallowed by water.

The affected river towns are filled with stories like the one from Marblehead, Ill., where 16-year-old Jack Williams said that he and his family couldn't stop their house from flooding but they felt an obligation to work in shifts to keep the water out of their neighbor's house.

Men, women, children and even convicts have been extending themselves in every capacity to assist others. And they're coming from all over, not just from the affected communities.

In Ste. Genevieve, Mo., there were scores of volunteers who worked frantically around the clock for weeks to repair leaking levees and raise the height of the levees as the flood waters rose along the Mississippi. When a local radio station called for more help, some came from as far away as St. Louis -- 40 miles upstream.

Nine states have been inundated by muddy water that has picked up objects ranging from children's toys to carcasses along the way. The Mississippi floods have caused at least 50 deaths, countless injuries and $12 billion in damage. Unlike a hurricane or a tornado, this type of flooding won't recede for weeks.

Dr. Russell R. Dynes, author of "The Sociology of Disaster," wrote in The Sun in 1987 that disaster victims "may be frightened, but they do not 'panic.' Instead they show concern for others, even those they do not know. Neither do victims later sit around feeling sorry for themselves. . . they more frequently compare themselves to others who have suffered more, and they consider themselves lucky and even blessed."

There are examples of this in every flooded city along the river.

In Keithburg, Ill., Bertha Finch -- whose house was ruined -- set up a combination dining hall, storage facility and meeting hall in a little firehouse for townspeople who needed some help and hope in rebuilding their lives. She said her philosophy is to be strong and help people all day and then cry at night.

The Great Flood of '93 has left hundreds of counties and towns water-logged, while reports of self-sacrifice surface every day. It is a tribute to these Midwesterners that they remain kind-hearted and helpful even after all they have been through.

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