Richard Hrabko, former Spirit Airport director, discusses Flood of '93 evacuation

6:10 PM, Aug 1, 2013   |    comments
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By Leisa Zigman

CHESTERFIELD, Mo. (KSDK) - It is hard to believe it's been 20 years since the great Flood of '93. All this week, we've been remembering the historic event that changed our landscape and lives.

July 30, 1993, was when the Missouri River exploded through the Monarch levee. On the west end of the Chesterfield Valley was Richard Hrabko, the director of the Spirit of St. Louis Airport. He remembers "the call."

"The police called me on the radio and said, 'The levee has broken. There is a five foot wall of water heading your way,'" he said.

Hrabko served as Spirit Airport director for 43 years. He oversaw the safe evacuation of more than 700 planes over 17 consecutive hours leading up to the break. He recalled the play by play being relayed to him by police.

"They said, it's 300 yards, it's 200 yards, when they said 100 yards, I could smell the pungent odor over the river, and within the matter of a minute or so you could see this black water coming up on the end of the runway," he said.

The airport was closed for 80 days. Hrabko marveled at the extraordinary efforts to clean up and reopen with new infrastructure and construction that he says is bigger and better than before the flood.

At the opposite end of the Chesterfield Valley sits Thom Sehnert's iconic family business the Smoke House.

"They didn't think it was going to be breached. They didn't know what was going to happen. They said if anything happened there might be casual water in the valley," Sehnert said.

It didn't take long for 13 feet of water to cover the Smoke House and the rest of the valley.

There was never a hesitation to rebuild. Seven months to the day after the levee gave way, the Smoke House reopened for business. And new businesses have been pouring into the valley ever since.

"It wasn't fatal and we look back and we are so grateful and humbled really because it just brought the fact of what great friends and family and faith we had," Sehnert said. "Those are the three things that got us back in business and keep us in business today."

The Monarch Levee has been rebuilt to several feet above a 500 foot flood level.

KSDK

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