Twenty years ago officials in northwest Missouri were still looking for remains from a cemetery washed out by the Flood of 1993.
On July 12, 1993 a levee protecting the town of Hardin in Ray County broke. Cemetery Association President Steven Shirley says that left Hardin an island and dug a deep gash through the town cemetery.
He says the first reports of what was happening at the cemetery were made by the staff of then Governor Mel Carnahan, who himself saw a burial vault floating away while doing a helicopter flyover after the levee breach.
“Water started running through the cemetery and dug a blue hole 90 feet deep from the level of the ground before it was all over, so it just dug out the center of the cemetery.”
More than 600 graves were washed out by the flood by waters so strong even some tombstones were swept away. He believes some markers and remains might still be at the bottom of the lake that remains in the middle of the Cemetery today.
In 1993 Darrel Carmichael owned Carmichael Tow & Recovery in Hardin, and was asked by local officials to participate in the search and recovery operation. He tells Missourinet he didn’t realize what he was getting into when he agreed to participate.
“A burial vault is made of concrete, and a full burial vault … and if it’s filled with water and sludge and so forth … will weigh up to and over 6,000 pounds. Well, 6,000 pounds is heavier than a four-wheel-drive pickup … and trying to maneuver that through the mud and sometimes even a mile or so to get to any semblance of a road.”
Carmichael says of the remains that were washed away, all that could be recovered were. He says some graves because of their age likely didn’t have anything to be recovered.
The recovery operation continued until November of that year, though Carmichael says some remains were found in 1994. Shirley says the Association didn’t take long to decide not to relocate the cemetery, and some burials still take place in it today.
Today there is a memorial at the cemetery for the remains that were recovered but could not be identified, and then Shirley says there is a cluster of headstones that were placed close together.
“They are the stones that we recovered but they were some of the unknowns, and no grave to put them on.”
Carmichael says it is because of his experience in 1993 that he was asked to join the federal Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Teams (DMORTs). He says that team had been created in 1990 but had its first real test at Hardin.
“They learned so many things from the Hardin incident that it gave them direction in what they needed as far as response people, equipment and so forth.”
Since Hardin, Carmichael participated in recovery operations following several disasters. His last such deployment was in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina.