Remembering the 1997 flood 20 years later
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) – It was March 1997 and Kentuckiana couldn't catch a break from the rain.
In some areas, it was the worst flooding since the Great Flood of 1937. The water just kept rising.
The swollen Ohio River spilled over into surrounding communities. Thousands of homes barely peeked out of the foul brown flood water.
Tens of thousands were evacuated and their saviors came in heavy duty trucks used as shuttles.
The usual, flood-prone streets overflowed first. Then the roads that didn't flood, turned to rivers.
"The view is just as impressive from up here. Take a look at this vantage point of River Road. There's the stop sign and under all that water somewhere is river road. On top is floating a virtual garbage dump.”
Interstates 64 and 65 were shut down as drivers became castaways – stranded until the National Guard came to the rescue.
"It was truly one of the most horrific tragedies that this city has certainly seen,” Steve Duncan said.
Steve Duncan has been an assignment editor at WHAS11 News for 36 years. He's worked through a lot of demanding news events. The Flood of 97, he hopes to never relive.
"You couldn't get out enough information to people and it was truly life – sort of life and death information. It wasn't just reporting and people listening and watching for casual information. They were looking for information that was going to get them through that day – whether they were going to be able to get to their houses or not, whether they were going to have electricity, where they could go for food, a place to sleep, clothing,” he said. “It was truly a remarkable response and one of the proudest moments of my career – just how we covered this tragedy and informed people on a true disaster."
Working around the clock, broadcasting for hours at a time – WHAS11 delivered life-saving information to a community fighting disaster, capturing heartbreak, relief and the unimaginable.
"One of the most iconic pieces of video of incidents that happened during the whole flooding was there was a house in the south end that caught on fire. There was an electrical short of some kind and the house caught on fire but it was completely surrounded by water. The only thing that was visible was the roof of the house. This house was totally engulfed in flames. Fire Department could not get to it and it was in the middle of what looked like a sea and it was just sights like that that came up every day that just demanded our attention and they were seen all over the world," he said.
When the water finally receded, it left behind $400 million worth of damage.
In the Louisville Metro alone, 50,000 homes were affected.
It is a tragedy Kentuckiana will never forget.