As Flood Waters Recede, Cost of Recovery Swells

As water levels fall along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, the scope of the damage left behind by their flooding widens.

AccuWeather estimates $12.5 billion in damages and losses from flooding across the Midwest this spring, which would make it one of the costliest flood events in the region in more than a decade. Many state and local officials say they have barely begun tallying the costs.

“We’ve seen the tornadoes, we’ve seen rain, we’ve seen the rivers and creeks flooded,” said Sam Funk with the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation. “You can’t even say it’s a black swan event. The black swan wouldn’t even want to swim in these waters.”

All but two of the 15 states through which the Missouri and Mississippi rivers flow have received federal disaster declarations for storms and multiple rounds of flooding this spring.

The first half of 2019 is on track to be the wettest on record as a result of all the rain and snowmelt, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The agency said flooding in the Midwest in March has made its list of billion-dollar disasters.

At the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, officials won’t have a clear picture of the harm done by flooding until the water recedes, said Rebecca Clark, an agency spokeswoman. The state transportation department estimates that more than 1,000 miles of road will need to be cleaned.

In Iowa, officials estimate the first round of flooding alone caused $2 billion in infrastructure and economic losses.

Nebraska leaders came up with a similar estimate after flooding left large stretches of farmland under several feet of sand, killed off cattle, impaired community water and sewage systems, and damaged the state’s transportation infrastructure.

A total of 3,300 miles of state and federal highways had to be closed, in addition to 21 bridges, said Bryan Tuma, who is with Nebraska’s Emergency Management Agency. Only 10 of those bridges have reopened, and repairs to the others may not be complete until late 2020.

The flooding damaged roughly 300 miles of levees along the Missouri River and its tributaries, including 40 breached levees, said Bret Budd with the Omaha District of the U.S. Army Corps.

Budd said it would take until at least next year before the levee system in the region is fully restored. Because his district will be competing for resources with other Corps districts where levees sustained weather damage, the repairs could also take longer, leaving communities vulnerable.

“It’s a monumental task,” he said. “Until the levees are repaired, they’re compromised.”

Jared Gartman, chief of readiness and contingency operations for the Mississippi Valley Division of the Army Corps, said 31 levees in the upper Mississippi Valley were overtopped by floodwaters.

Source: Wall Street Journal