Flood again threatens Hardin Cemetery in Missouri, recalling terrible scene in 1993

The city of Hardin, Missouri, is watching and waiting this week as water rises in the town’s cemetery, where more than 1,000 bodies washed away decades prior in the Great Flood of 1993.

“A main levee has broken between Hardin and Norborne. This is causing water to back up in our direction,” the city warned on its Facebook page Sunday. “Water is now covering J Highway. This could affect people in the south, low lying end of town. Be prepared.”

The city in Ray County is among several communities along the Missouri River dealing with flooding.

As Hardin prepared for high water, Steve Shirley, president of the Hardin Cemetery Association, recounted the 1993 flood while looking out across a lake where an old part of the cemetery remains.

The whole area flooded then, Shirley said. The water was high enough to wash out more than 1,000 bodies, including 560-plus caskets from the historical cemetery, which was founded in 1883.

“The farthest one that we recovered was all the way almost to Marshall, and we recovered 600-plus,” Shirley said. “Some of them we were not able to identify and buried them up there in the other section of the cemetery.”

More than 100 of those who were buried at the cemetery were never recovered. The event made national news.

Neomi Fernyoung, who grew up in nearby Richmond, said she has an aunt and uncle buried there. She remembers seeing the aftermath of the 1993 flood.

“My dad and my stepmom and I went back through the country, up behind Carrolton and back through the back roads, and we seen them pulling caskets out of the water then and loading them up in station wagons and pickups,” Fernyoung said.

The water current was strong enough to carry away bodies as well as dozens of gravestones, Shirley said. He pointed to eight rows of the stones the cemetery was able to locate in the water.

“We had to pump the water down for three days before we could even get to them,” Shirley said. “We decided to reset them in rows so these people could be remembered.”

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Kaitlyn Schwers covers breaking news and crime at night for The Kansas City Star. Originally from Willard, Mo., she spent nearly three years reporting in Arkansas and Illinois before returning to Missouri and joining The Star in 2017.