Photo: AP Images
The United States Army Corps of Engineers flooded Vicksburg, Miss. to save New Orleans. The waters crested May 19 in the old southern city at 57.1 feet, surpassing a record set 84 years ago.
Click here to see the 10 costliest floods >
Flooding one city to save another was an awful choice that says a great deal about the ineffectiveness of the current flood control infrastructure.
Nonetheless, flood control measures are now considered advanced compared to those of just a few decades ago.
The Mississippi flood, the second most destructive in the history of the U.S., has finally begun to subside, but others are anticipated to spring up around the country later this year. The New York Times reports that snow packs in mountains in the US west are high enough that, “Fear of a sudden thaw, releasing millions of gallons of water through river channels and narrow canyons, has disaster experts on edge.” Experts can anticipate the damage, but are nearly helpless to prevent it.
The floods sweeping through the Mississippi River Basin and other parts of the region have become an increasing concern not just to the people living there, but to anyone concerned with the health of the U.S. economy. The costs of aid, of reconstruction, of destroyed crops and of lost business are estimated by some to be as much as $9 billion, and that forecast may prove to be conservative.
This disaster also taxes national resources. CNN reports the National Flood Insurance Program could buckle under the weight of its obligations. “The massive Mississippi River flooding is expected to leave behind a giant bill for the government program, which offers affordable insurance to people who live in risky areas and then backstops their claims,” the news network says.
As residents throughout the lower Midwest and mid-south are currently experiencing firsthand, floods can be among the most destructive forces unleashed by Mother Nature. Unusually large amounts of rainfall and snow melt, sudden shifts in temperature can all unleash flood waters that can wreak havoc on everything in their paths. Entire towns can be flooded and millions of acres of crops destroyed at a frighteningly fast rate. Oftentimes, the people who flee their homes for higher ground will never return.
Since the U.S. Geological Survey began collecting flood data at the beginning of the 20th century, some 32 major floods have been reported. They have occurred all over the country, though many have been in the Mississippi River Basin, the site of the current disaster. Based on an analysis of the USGS database, and adjustments for current dollar values, 24/7 Wall St picked the 10 most destructive floods in American history. We excluded those floods which were caused by hurricanes because their damage can be as much from wind as from water.
Date: December 1964-January 1965
Area or Stream With Flooding: Pacific Northwest
Reported Deaths: 47
Approximate Costs: $3.02 Billion
Cause: Melting snow and heavy rain
In December of 1964, heavy snows covered the Western Cascade mountains in Oregon. Mid-month, the area was hit with unseasonably warm temperatures that melted the snow at the same time as nearly a foot of rain fell over the region in just a few days.
The heavy waters coming down from the mountains flooded a vast region of the state of Oregon, including the entire town of Salem, which was submerged under nearly 10 feet of water.
The flood would not subside until early January, and affected major parts of Oregon, as well as parts of California, Washington, Nevada, and Idaho. Over 150,000 acres of land were covered by the flood waters.
Date: March-April 1913
Area or Stream With Flooding: Ohio, statewide
Reported Deaths: 467
Approximate Costs: $3.25 Billion
Cause: Heavy rainfall
Excessive rainfall in March 1913 caused water systems all over the state, particularly the Great Miami River, to flood their banks. As the name of the flood suggests, no major part of the state was spared. The disaster killed 467 people and damaged more than 40,000 homes were destroyed.
The city of Dayton may have received seen the worst of the disaster, with its main street submerged by 10 feet of rapidly moving water. The sudden flood in Dayton killed hundreds of unsuspecting people.
Near Cincinnati, the Ohio River rose more than 21 feet in a 24-hour period. The Statewide Flood is considered by many to be the greatest natural disaster in the history of Ohio.
Date: December 1996-January 1997
Area or Stream With Flooding: Pacific Northwest and Montana
Reported Deaths: 36
Approximate Costs: $3.47 billion
Cause: Melting snow and heavy rain
The Winter of 1995 was a strange one for the Willamette Valley in Western Oregon, as consistent, steady rain, rather than snow, raised the water table significantly through January.
Towards the end of the month, several feet of snow blanketed the area. When a quick temperature shift caused the new snow to melt all at once, the already high river levels reached a breaking point. The flooding spread into Idaho, Washington, and California.
The Willamette River immediately reached a peak of 28 feet near Portland. Roughly 30,000 residents were forced to flee.
Date: June 1965
Area or Stream With Flooding: South Platte and Arkansas Rivers in Colorado
Reported Deaths: 24
Approximate Costs: $3.94 billion
Cause: Extremely heavy rain in a short period of time
On June 16, 1965, rain from a series of violent thunderstorms fell across parts of the state, with unprecedented rainfall levels of more than a foot in a single night.
This caused the South Platte River to become a massive flash flood of 15 foot high water, sweeping through the entire course of the riverbed from Littleton, Colorado, all the way north to the border of Nebraska, destroying everything in its path.
At its peak the river was reportedly 25 feet above normal water levels. All 26 bridges in the path of the raging river were ripped to shreds and carried away.
Date: March 1936
Area or Stream With Flooding: New England
Reported Deaths: 150+
Approximate Costs: $4.72 Billion
Cause: Heavy rain, ice jams, destruction of dam
During the Winter of 1935-1936, heavy snowfall and consistently low temperatures caused a dense snow pack to accumulate across northern New England.
In mid-March, temperatures warmed well above melting point in just a few days, and heavy rain began to fall across Maine and New Hampshire. As a result, massive flooding and ice jams occurred throughout the region, ripping off a 1,000 foot section of the top of the Holyoke Dam.
The entire Connecticut River flooded New Hampshire and Maine. The river near Hartford reached a peak of 36 feet, a record to this day.
Date: July 1951
Area or Stream With Flooding: Kansas and Neosho River Basin in Kansas
Reported Deaths: 15
Approximate Costs: $6.71 Billion
Cause: Heavy rain over long duration
During the middle of Summer 1951, nearly a straight month of heavy rains fell on eastern Kansas and Missouri, with as much as 16 inches falling in a five-day period in some parts of the region.
As a result, the Kansas and Neosho River basins flooded their banks. By the time the water subsided roughly 2 million acres were flooded.
This is the equivalent of half of New Jersey being underwater. More than 500,000 people were displaced as a result of the flood waters.
Date: May 1995
Area or Stream With Flooding: South-central United States
Reported Deaths: 32
Approximate Costs: $7.87 Billion
Cause: Multiple heavy thunderstorms
Between May 8th and 9th, southern Louisiana received some of the heaviest rainfall in recorded history, with as much as 23 inches falling over the course of two days.
The areas south of the region of storms were all inundated, with the final destination of the flowing water being the New Orleans (which itself received more than 20 inches of rain). More than $350 million in damages occurred in the city alone, 56,000 homes were damaged.
It was the worst flooding in the city in 40 years, and would remain so until Hurricane Katrina 10 years later.
Date: May-September 1993
Area or Stream With Flooding: Mississippi River Basin in Central United States
Reported Deaths: 48
Approximate Costs: $30.2 Billion
Cause: Long Period of heavy rain
The most destructive flood in the history of the United States occurred in 1993, as steady rain in the previous fall had raised reservoir and river levels to above-average highs.
Heavy snowfall in the Winter of 1993, followed by heavy storms through the spring and summer, caused the already saturated water levels to flood across an enormous portion of the Midwest, affecting Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.
In all, nearly 20 million acres were flooded, a portion of land roughly the size of the state of South Carolina. More than 1,000 levees were destroyed, as well as buildings, bridges, and roughly 50,000 homes.
Near St. Louis, the Mississippi River was recorded at more than 20 feet above the point where it is considered a flood. Escalating the damage -- which is estimated at more than $30 billion in current dollars -- flood waters would not fully recede in some parts of the region for nearly seven months.
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