Making History by Rising to New Heights

The people of Valmeyer, Illinois, awash in water three years ago, have built a whole new hometown, this time above the flood line

"My dad told me a long time ago there'd be another flood," Darrell Glaenzer reveals. "He said he might not live to see it, but if that levee broke we'd have water up to the ceiling. He died on July 9. Heart attack. That was the day after we began sandbagging."

Darrell's dad was right. Valmeyer, Illinois was one of several towns along the Mississippi drowned by the 1993 floods. The rains put the town under as much as 20 feet of water and stood in some places for weeks. "We still thought, with the flood insurance, we could fix up that house and start again," says Darrell.

But what Darrell and his neighbors didn't know was that the government's new hazard mitigation policy sought to move buildings out of the path of recurring disasters. In other words, the government offered to help rebuild the city on higher ground.

Residents soon realized this meant overcoming a lot of red tape, spending a couple of years in cramped government trailers and planning the new town. But today, Valmeyer has risen again on a bluff overlooking the ruins of the original site. New homes, churches and schools have replaced the ones lost in the floods. "It still feels like we're living in somebody else's house," explains Darrell's wife, Anna. "But give it a few years and maybe it'll seem like we've been here forever."

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