How a Flood Town Became a City on a Hill

After 1993 deluge, Valmeyer, Ill., got a 400-foot boost -- rebuilding on hill.


June 20, 2008— -- Today, town after town along the swollen Mississippi River continues the downhill fight against the floods.

It's a scene painfully familiar to Jean Langsdorf and her neighbors in Valmeyer, Ill.

"Anytime there's a flood anywhere, or any disaster, you think about what happened [back] then," said Langsdorf.

In the summer of 1993, the merciless Mississippi flooded Valmeyer not once but twice. The water rose to 20 feet, drowning homes, businesses and an entire town's way of life.

When the waters receded, the people of Valmeyer signed on for a bold experiment to move their entire town to higher ground. Over two years, Valmeyer was rebuilt only 2 miles to the east, but on land hundreds of feet higher.

Today, as towns north of Valmeyer struggle with crippling floods, Valmeyer stays dry. However, the move wasn't without sacrifice. FEMA paid hundreds of millions of dollars toward the relocation bill, but homeowners like Langsdorf had to shoulder the rest.

Langsdorf spoke of the hardship in 1994 in an interview with ABC News.

"Down below, I had no mortgage payment," Langsdorf said at the time. "My house was paid off, and now I'll have a big mortgage payment."

Today, Langsdorf sees things differently.

"It was the only way to go," she said. "The answer was to go up, and that's what we did."Amazingly, despite its relocation, the town is growing. Before the 1993 floods, Valmeyer had 900 residents, compared with 1,100 today. Though they are working to regain the town's character, the community has built new banks, well-manicured neighborhoods and thriving schools.

Next year, Valmeyer celebrates its 100th birthday. In light of today's flooding, residents like Langsdorf are thankful for their new location.

"You can't think back; you have to move forward," she said. "We might blow away, but we're not going to get washed away."

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