25 Years Ago, Today

**This section got edited out of another piece I’m currently working on. Here’s my “Floods of ’93” story. Enjoy.

I spent the summer of 1993 home from college, driving into day after day of heavy rain on my way to work. In the early morning hours of July 11, the Des Moines and Raccoon rivers merged into one watery mass at their convergence, and the water treatment plant, located not far from where the rivers met, went offline. Sam, then not yet my husband, was visiting, sleeping in my room. I was upstairs sleeping on the couch, Walkman by my side. When the power went out around 4 AM, I woke to the sound of thunder and the flash of lightning, put in my earbuds and turned on the radio.

…We’re receiving reports from the city that the water treatment plant is completely inundated. … People living in Des Moines who are served by municipal water are advised not to drink the water coming from their taps…

Half still in a dream state, I listened a few minutes more as the radio news reporters questioned whether there would even be water running in the taps at all by daybreak. I drowsily debated with myself whether or not to wake anyone else. I decided against it. I went back to sleep.

The telephone woke me at 6 am. Mom was already up and in the kitchen. Before I had a chance to warn her not to drink the water or start the dishwasher, my sister, staying with a friend in Ankeny (which still had municipal water service) called to deliver the news and ask whether she should head home right away.

By 6:30 AM, nothing came out of the faucets. Our battery-powered radio, droning in the background with mostly a repeated loop of information we already knew, informed us that the city had decided to shut off the water supply, in the attempt to prevent a bad situation (undrinkable water) from deteriorating into a worse one (disease). What we didn’t know that morning was that the taps would remain dry for twelve more days, and even then, the water delivered through the system was unsafe to drink for about a week.

Around 7AM, Dad returned from an early-morning trip to check on the night crew at his print shop across town with an armload of flashlight and radio batteries, three huge jugs of drinking water, and other various survival supplies gleaned from the office. By daybreak, store shelves all over town were already cleared of batteries, drinking water, paper plates, ice, milk, and bread. We’d been without power most of the night, and would be for the following several days. Neighborhoods near the worst of the flooding but not affected enough to be evacuated (such as ours) were intentionally kept in the dark to prevent people from being electrocuted by stepping in their flooded basements. Where Dad managed to find D and AA batteries even that early in the morning, I have no idea. The jugs of water, of course, came from the stockpile next to the office water cooler. Such are the benefits when your dad is a business owner.

Dad’s print shop remained dry and after a day or two, work went on as usual, unlike at his competitors’ print shop closer to the riverfront. I’m sure he didn’t do it for free, but he offered to make printing plates for them once they got running again, since their platemaking equipment fell victim to the floodwaters. Water trucked in from a farm owned by parents of one of Dad’s employees kept the presses running. We flushed toilets with buckets of rainwater. We ate peanut butter sandwiches on paper plates. We washed our hair with a bucket out on the porch. We drove to a laundromat in Newton to do laundry. But we only did all that for three days.

Three days after most of the city went dark and the taps went dry, my mom and sister and I drove to the airport and flew out of town, as we’d planned, to visit Mom’s parents in Seattle. We laughed at the providence of our timing, while we worried a little for our friends we left behind.