Hardin Water Tower

Hardin-Central School

Christian Church

The Flood of 1993

Flood Remembrance. Photo by Brenda Jensen.
The solemnity of the occasion was evident even from the start during the Pledge of Allegiance. (Photo by Brenda Jensen)

Reliving bad memories of the flood
Brenda Jensen, News Reporter, The Richmond Daily News
July 15, 2008

The 15-year Remembrance of the Hardin Cemetery Flood drew 251 people to the Farris Theatre at 2 p.m. on Sunday, July 13.

After the presentation of the colors by the Ray County Veterans Color Guard and the Pledge of Allegiance, Sen. Bill Stouffer's wife, Sue Ellen, presented an American flag to Hardin Cemetery Board President Steve Shirley. Rep. Bob Nance presented the Missouri State flag to Shirley. Both flags will be flown at the Hardin Cemetery.

A special panel of individuals was seated on the stage. Darrel Carmichael said, "We started moving our equipment in on Aug. 1 (when the waters receded enough from the July 12 levee break). We hadn't ever dealt with floodwater that deep. I used a 12-foot stick and walked out in front of the equipment. I tapped out in front of me started the retrieval. If I close my eyes, what I'd visualize is the Little Brick Road. It's a mile long and I couldn't see it. If I looked at the water, the waves moved and you'd want to go with it. We brought 645 caskets and vaults out and could only haul four at a time, so that meant we made 161 trips. At two miles per trip, we went over 311 miles driving in water four feet deep and feeling our way along.

Among the many recoveries, Carmichael said they found two vaults in the marsh that "we couldn't put back in a cemetery. Why?" They were from Hurricane Audrey, back in 1957."

Kevin Carmichael was 24 years old at the time. "I thought I was well-rounded. I had four years in the military and did a tour in Desert Storm, but I was unprepared...I didn't have a loved one there. I took away a lesson in compassion. The way they (the community) pulled together still to this day blows my mind. It gave me the opportunity to be a better person. For the past 15 years, I've been a part of the DMORT (Disaster Mortuary Recovery Team) and been an ambassador for our community to give back what's been given to me. By the end of the summer, the friends and family that I met, well, I felt like I had someone buried there."

Donnie Blankenship was with the city of Hardin Public Works' Dept. and served as Chief of Police at the time. "In 1992, we built a new water plant and put it 12-feet above the ground. People asked us why we did that. Water got within nine feet of the floor. When the levee broke into the cemetery, the water dropped 14 inches overnight in town," he said.

Bob Littleton said they watched the flood first take the farmland and crops, then the streets and the town and homes and then the cemetery. He talked about getting boats and motors and the individuals that started retrieving the cemetery's lost. "We first took them to the Heil home in Norborne. We went to the south side of the railroad tracks and started tying them (the vaults and caskets) up, then we'd load them on railroad cars and bring them into town. This continued day and night until we could find them all."

Littleton explained, "Many vaults had names on them. Photos were taken that have been seen by very few. Much stays with us that just can't be told. I'm grateful for all we were able to accomplish. I'm especially proud of the unknown part of the cemetery for those that were lost."

Greg Smith said, "We stood helplessly as we watched the levees give way one by one." Smith was called in to help with spreading the word when time for evacuation came. "For me, the next 24 hours were some of the most amazing hours I will remember about the flood. People, friends, family, neighbors and people I had never even met before, were pouring into town with trucks and trailers. I don't know if you've ever seen our National Guard in action, but for me it was a sight to behold. They worked quickly and efficiently and with the utmost kindness and courtesy toward our citizens, and for this we thank you."

Smith's testimony was very emotional and really touched the hearts of the audience as many were seen to wipe away some tears. "I remember a lady standing next to me as she silently said, ‘First our homes, and now our loved ones,'" he said.

"With the collaboration of Dean Snow, Gary Holloway, other officials and volunteers," Smith went on to explain that teams were assigned to boats, "with only ropes and determination, we set out to retrieve that which had been taken from us." Working alongside Bob Littleton, Johnny Acree and Tom Burton, Smith spent many hours, days and weeks in these efforts. "We took what we were doing very seriously, and although we choose not to speak of everything we saw or did, there is one thing we would like you to know. With every coffin and with every loved one we recovered, we handled them with the utmost respect and dignity."

Smith's emotional reading was followed by an equally touching testimony by Lulabelle Baker. As she began to read, a surge of emotion overtook her for which she gently swatted Smith, saying, "You did this to me!" She shared, "By the time water was coming in city hall and we left, there was a steady string of trucks driving through water leaving town in front of the school," Baker said.

Amidst many tragedies are the little things that add some humor and help people to deal with what's happening. Baker said, "After we got settled into a routine...I made daily trips to Richmond to pick up the mail, prescriptions, gasoline, groceries and whatever anyone needed. One thing that sticks out in my mind was Margaret Underwood coming to the Legion (where city hall was set up) telling me she needed onions!" That brought quite a chuckle from the otherwise reverent audience. Baker said she was able to get those onions too!

Many individuals were praised for the little and big things they did. Baker talked about Janice Anderson, "We used her driveway as a makeshift boat dock. Janice was a big part of keeping us going. She had a gas stove, and cooked meals for us almost every evening. Her yard and boat dock was a gathering place for many of us."

Later, others were also mentioned as having a hand in what went on. Baker told The Daily News, "Curtis Proffitt was a big help to us. He knew the people to get in touch with and played a big part because we'd never been through before. JoAnne Boggess called him quite a bit and stayed in contact with him daily. I think he needs to be thanked too." The Red Cross was there too, "They were so much a part of our lives. They furnished so much almost before we knew we needed it."

Richmond Police Chief Terri McWilliams was a Richmond Police Officer when the flood hit. Humbly she said, "I don't feel like I fit in with the people up here. I closed Highway 10 and directed traffic. Within days, I was put in a boat and like the others, I was given a rope and told to go do what you can." Not exempt to reliving the memories and the emotions that swell she said, "In 23 years I've never met so many people that cared so much."

Dean Snow's daughter, Dawn Schumacher from Lexington, Ky., had learned about the Remembrance just a day prior to it. She got on a plane and arrived to share her own feelings. "I was at a camp in Springfield, Mo. It was dry, hot and sunny and there was no water anywhere when I heard about the flood. I didn't understand until I made it from Liberty to Richmond and Dad drove me around." She thanked the people and said, "You mattered very much to him (Dad)...and his community grew much larger in 1993."

Sheriff Sam Clemens talked about Dean Snow. "Dean Snow was there to coordinate it. He was there at the start and at the finish...We recovered the very first casket that came out."

Steve Shirley said he and Snow had seen some caskets floating out of the cemetery. "We stood in a dry spot, the cemetery wasn't covered yet, and had only lost 10 or 20 caskets at that point. We figured we'd better start making plans. We had no idea what we were getting into." He gave the following statistics: 90 percent of the cemetery was flooded. Of the 1,576 graves in the cemetery, 793+ were washed out, 375 stones were knocked over, and 100+ stones were washed away.

Weeks passed, and it was decided to rebuild the cemetery there. They had no idea how, and no money for this kind of project, but decided to do it anyway. Recovering 645 remains, they were able to identify and rebury 120. A mass grave was planned for 525, of which 40 were infants, however each was buried individually and identified with a numbered marker. A memorial was held Dec. 5, 1993. It took one and half years to reset 375 headstones and get the cemetery ‘presentable.' The cemetery was rededicated July 30, 1995.

After the testimonials, the video "Buried Secrets of the Hardin Cemetery" was shown. The video was produced by New Dominion Pictures and National Geographic.

Perhaps a quote from the documentary sums it up best, "Death is supposed to be the final chapter in our lives, but in Hardin, Missouri Mother Nature rewrote the book."

After the invocation by Rev. Chris Cox of the Hardin Baptist Church, "Taps," was played by buglers Danny Lane and Gary Lowery.

Article reprinted with the permission of the Richmond Daily News.