Overview of Floods

The 1993 flood rated physically as the worst on the Upper Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, and the losses and costs of responding to the flood made it the most expensive flood on the Mississippi River system. Major losses included 52 dead, the highest since the floods of 1951, 56,000 homes damaged, 8.5 million farm acres either unplanted or unharvested, crop losses equating to $1.4 billion in corn and soybeans, and more than $ 1.9 billion losses to transportation systems including $920 million to the barge industry (20% of the year's revenue). The total losses amounted to an estimated $18 billion. Congress ultimately authorized $6.2 billion in aid. Insured crop losses totaled $1.6 billion, and the government paid out $301 million in flood insurance payments. State governments spent an estimated $1 billion in flood-related costs (Changnon, 1996a).

The large flash flood in July 1996 set record flow records on local streams and the Illinois River. It inundated parts of 18 large suburban communities of Chicago, causing enormous damage, disrupting transportation to Chicago, rural crop losses, and killing 5 people. Costs of the damages and responses to this flood exceed $0.6 billion (Changnon et al., 1997).

The late winter/early spring flood of 1997, due to heavy prolonged rains falling on frozen ground, did not set records. It was the most severe flood along the Ohio River since the floods of 1936, a 51-year period during which many thought that the area had become essentially flood proof. There were 24 killed with 83,000 homes damaged, and extensive damages to floodplain properties totaling $1.6 billion.

Economic Impacts

The economic impacts of the floods of 1993, 1996, and 1997 involved losses to individuals in and near flooded communities, to floodplain farmers, and to Midwest businesses and industries. Business losses affected regional sales, agricultural production, utilities, manufacturing, transportation, tourism, and recreation. However, the 1993 and 1997 floods also produced some winners in the agriculture, business, and transportation sectors.

Estimates of losses and costs of responding to the 1993 flood varied from $12 to $15.7 billion, and when the railroad and barge losses of $1.3 billion are added, the grand total is $18.1 billion, making it the nation's second worst weather disaster behind hurricane Andrew. The 1996 flash flood costs were $0.6 billion, and the estimates of costs of the 1997 flood are at $1.6 billion and growing.

The 1993 flood inundated vast amounts of valuable farmland representing about 4% of the Corn Belt's planted acreage. Lands lost to crop production due to the 1993 flooding included 2.5 million acres of corn and 1.97 million acres of soybeans. Agricultural losses amounting to $8.9 billion exceeded the losses of all other sectors. National corn production for 1993 was 31% less than for 1992, largely due to the flood. The effects of the 1997 flood on agriculture were less, since it occurred before planting had begun. Many nonflooded Midwestern farmers in 1993 came out "winners," as the flood caused grain prices to rise.

One of the greatest problems caused by all three floods was the curtailment of transportation. The 1993 flood became an absolute barrier to cross-river train and vehicular traffic, paralyzing transportation along 500 miles of the Mississippi River for 6 weeks. River-based barges were halted for nearly 2 months as about 1000 miles of navigable rivers were ultimately closed to navigation. With losses in excess of $1.9 billion, damages to the region's surface transportation systems were the worst in history. Barge movement along the Ohio River was halted for 5 weeks during the 1997 flood, a loss of $600 million. Revenues lost by navigation interests during the 2-month shutdown in 1993 amounted to $320 million.

The nation's major east-west railroads interconnect the top three rail hubs at Chicago, Kansas City, and St. Louis, but unfortunately cross through the badly flooded 1993 areas of Missouri, Iowa, and Illinois. Major washouts of track as well as bridge closings occurred in all floods and total damages for the railroads amounted to $240 million in 1993, and $38 million in 1996. Nearly 3000 longdistance trains had to be re-routed on longer, circuitous routes around the flood-affected areas. The damages and losses suffered by Midwest railroads ranked the 1993 flood as the worst natural disaster ever experienced by the railroad industry.

The public sector of surface transportation was heavily damaged in all three floods. Approaches to highway bridges were flooded and damaged. Road and highway closings during the floods were mainly concentrated along the major rivers, and in 1993, 3200 miles of roads were closed. The 1997 flood closed 75 highways in Ohio for at least 10 days. Severe erosion and washouts affected state and interstate highways, and hundreds of county roads, and damages amounted to $434 million in 1993, $78 million in 1996, and $185 million in 1997. Numerous floodplain busi nesses and industries were flooded or their operations were severely curtailed. Facilities were damaged, and production either stopped or slowed down greatly. Severe limitations on the transportation systems interrupted incoming and outgoing raw materials and manufactured products, producing loss of revenue and work stoppages. About 1900 businesses reported closings due to flooding in 1993, and as a result of the closures and commuting problems, 20,000 persons became unemployed.

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