Archive for Wednesday, June 20, 2001

50-year flood anniversary

June 20, 2001

This summer marks the 50 anniversary of our state's most costly natural disaster.

I didn't see the flood of 1951 firsthand. I was born two years after that event, and it was several more years before I learned of the flood and its incredible impact of the Kansas and Missouri River basins.

What I do remember are the vivid descriptions from Kansans who lived through the flood and its aftermath. Those directly affected can still describe the events as if they happened a few days ago.

This was a life-changing and community-changing event in so many ways.

All along the Kansas and Missouri rivers, homes, businesses and entire neighborhoods were washed away in the violent waters of 1951. Forty-one people died. By the end of July, 165,00 were left homeless. Businesses were left with no inventory and few local customers. Entire communities struggled to survive.

As governor of Kansas, I sometimes have the difficult duty of touring communities immediately following natural disasters. I have seen the looks of shock and helplessness on the communities that are permanently changed.

I'm sure Gov. Edward Arn saw the same look on the faces of those he met during and after the flood of '51. Arn himself described it as "the worst catastrophe in Kansas history."

Now, 50 years later, we can walk through those same communities and marvel at our ability to rebuild. Regional flood control reservoirs and local levy systems add a greater measure of security. Those who experienced the flood of 1951 will never forget its impact. Those of us who came along after the flood owe a debt of gratitude to the people who worked so hard to recover and rebuild.

I can't help but think that adversity like the flood of '51, in some ways, can serve to strengthen all of our communities. We can all learn from such challenging experiences. We should never forget the tragedy that struck 50 years ago, but our lasting memory should be one of renewed spirit and communities rebuilt. Recovery from the 1951 flood serves as proof of what we can accomplish.

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