Along the lower Mississippi River todays lies stunning, costly, heartbreaking and immensely painful images of the destruction and devastation floodwaters have inflicted on thousands of Midwest U.S. home and business owners, their families, employees and customers.
The Mighty Mississippi’s waters continue to rise to record levels in many low-lying areas in Missouri and Illinois as the overflowing river continues its push south, leaving scores of flooded and destroyed homes and businesses in its wake. The National Weather Service measured the Mississippi River at Cape Girardeau, Mo., at an all-time flood record of 48.86 feet in early January.
This El Nino-driven slow-motion disaster is on its way to be among the costliest wintertime flood events in American history, and we’re still months from the spring flood season.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported on January 7 that damage from the rare massive winter floods will top $1 billion. The Great Flood of 2016’s next targets are Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana, including the cities of Greenville and Natchez, Miss., and Baton Rouge, according to AccuWeather.
“That is what has made this current event so unique, since we don’t expect this kind of flooding in the Midwest and Mississippi Valley until the spring,” Steve Bowen, a meteorologist with Aon Benfield, a global reinsurance firm based in London, told USA Today.
The floods have already claimed at least 25 lives and severely damaged homes, businesses and farms that line the Mississippi and its tributary waters in Missouri and Illinois. The damage extends to washed out roads, bridges and public buildings. Estimated road repairs in St. Louis County have already topped $200 million.
The current record holder for the costly wintertime U.S. Flood is the California floods of 1995 that cost $5 billion.
Climate change is making flooding on the Mississippi River a near annual occurrence. The last eight years have seen three major flood events on the nation’s longest river. Heavy flooding traditionally isn’t supposed to happen until the spring, when melting winter snows swell the river.
Not anymore, according to hydrologist Bob Criss of St. Louis’ Washington University.
“The Mississippi should shrug off the rain but instead it’s acting like a little river because it’s being channeled by levees,” Criss told The Guardian. “Flash flooding shouldn’t occur on one of the world’s great rivers. But the water has nowhere else to go but on to the heads of people who don’t have levees. You need levees for big cities but you can’t do it for 1,000 miles because the water needs somewhere to go.”
What does all this mean for homeowners in low-lying, levee-less areas and flooding hot spots close to flood-prone rivers like the Mississippi, Missouri and Illinois?
The first step, the National Flood Insurance Program, says, is purchase comprehensive flood insurance.
Step Two: Develop A Comprehensive Family Flood Protection Plan. Here’s the NFIP Official Recommended Flood Preparation Plan:
Safeguard your possessions.
- Create a personal flood file containing information about all your possessions and keep it in a secure place, such as a safe deposit box or waterproof container. This file should have:
- A copy of your insurance policies with your agents contact information.
- A household inventory: For insurance purposes, be sure to keep a written and visual (i.e., videotaped or photographed) record of all major household items and valuables, even those stored in basements, attics or garages. Create files that include serial numbers and store receipts for major appliances and electronics. Have jewelry and artwork appraised. These documents are critically important when filing insurance claims.
- Copies of all other critical documents, including finance records or receipts of major purchases.
Prepare your house.
- First make sure your sump pump is working and then install a battery-operated backup, in case of a power failure. Installing a water alarm will also let you know if water is accumulating in your basement.
- Clear debris from gutters and downspouts.
- Anchor any fuel tanks.
- Raise your electrical components (switches, sockets, circuit breakers, and wiring) at least 12 inches above your home’s projected flood elevation.
- Place the furnace, water heater, washer, and dryer on cement blocks at least 12 inches above the projected flood elevation.
- Move furniture, valuables, and important documents to a safe place.
Develop a family emergency plan.
- Create a safety kit with drinking water, canned food, first aid, blankets, a radio, and a flashlight.
- Post emergency telephone numbers by the phone and teach your children how to dial 911.
- Plan and practice a flood evacuation route with your family. Know safe routes from home, work, and school that are on higher ground.
- Ask an out-of-state relative or friend to be your emergency family contact.
- Have a plan to protect your pets.
A prepared home has the best chance of surviving any flood threat El Nino and today’s unpredictable weather may throw at it this year.