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Everyone Around Here Remembers the Levee Break on July 16, 1993

Sean Gallup, Getty Images

If you were around Quincy 20 years ago today, you probably know where you were when you heard the news that the levee in West Quincy failed to hold back the mighty Mississippi River. We all knew when it happened because the news and the river spread like wildfire. What we didn’t know at the time was that the levy failed thanks to the assistance of Quincian James Scott, who was eventually convicted of “creating a catastrophe” by removing sand bags in the area of the levee break. Would the levee have held back the rising water on its own?  Only God knows.

But the work of the people in the area to keep West Quincy dry and keep the Bayview Bridge open in 1993 all was wiped out by the break. From July 16 through September 25, there was no vehicular traffic from Illinois into Missouri, and vice versa.

The night of the levee break was dramatic in that hundreds of people, including the levee volunteer workers were fleeing to avoid the water filling the fields of West Quincy. A renegade barge which broke loose managed to make its way through the break and float into West Quincy and slam into a gas tank, causing a huge fireball which ended up floating through the fields of West Quincy until it burnt itself out.

I was working continuous flood coverage on WGEM radio at the time, and remember taking the call from then Adams County Sheriff Bob Nall confirming the calls we were receiving from the public that the levy had broken in West Quincy.

If you remember the pictures of the huge fireball at the gas station on TV, you know what an awesome sight it was to see the fire and the water overcoming the area. By the way, that memorable video was shot by my good friend Steve Looten who was the Sports Director for WGEM-TV at the time.

Scott became an immediate suspect when he appeared on live TV shortly after the levee had broken. Scott was being interview by WGEM reporter Michelle McCormack when law enforcement personnel were watching and, having known Scott’s criminal past, immediately put him on the radar for having caused the break. As it turned out they were correct in their thinking.

Scott is now in jail in Jefferson City, Missouri serving a life sentence.

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