Surviving The Floods: from Katrina to Canton

Posted: 02/09/2009 in disasters
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The fourth anniversary of Katrina marks some milestones that deserve to be ignored in the greater picture of politics, but more than deserve mention in the greater picture of surviving the times. The left wing socialists tried every trick they could pull to place the blame on President Bush, in spite of the fact that the damage really was entirely the fault of New Orleans. True, the damage was caused by a hurricane, of which we puny humans have no control over. However, the fact remains that much of New Orleans was built under the level of the sea. The residents relied upon man made dikes to keep out the sea water, as well as the waters of the Mississippi. Putting one plus three together and taking away two equals a disaster waiting to happen.

There were lots of things that could have been done to prevent the disaster from unfolding in the way that it did, but all would have come at a price. Higher and stronger dikes would have prevented at least some of the tragedy, but who was willing to pay the price? Should the US taxpayer foot the bill so that New Orleans could party on like there was no heaven after tomorrow? I don’t think so. If New Orleans wants to rebuild, that’s their prerogative, but let’s face facts. The city is rebuilding itself to the image it was before. Nothing has been learned. The same tragedy will occur again. Only a moron will build a house in the same spot that his previous home was washed away from in a flood. So, is New Orleans a city of morons? I don’t think that either, so what gives with their need to rebuild the city in same way that it was before?

Here in Maine, hurricanes pose less of a threat than they do in the Gulf region and along the southeastern states. We just had two tropical water buckets pass us by with little damage beyond heavy rains and high winds and limited tidal flooding. Aside from the idiot that decided to get right down where the wave action was in Acadia, there was no loss of life. But we still have natural disasters that we have to contend with, and every year the annual flood season is just one such inconvenience we have learned to live with.

There is a man made land formation that exists in every community that has water called a one hundred year flood zone. It is more of a building code issue than anything else, but simply put, it is a region or area that is subject to unusually high flooding every so often, ostensibly every hundred years or so. Only a fool would build a permanent structure in these areas, and the government tries to restrict as much of that sort of building as they can. The government also either charges a much higher rate for flood insurance, or outright refuses it in some cases, which can make living in these zones very costly. But over the years in times past, many people built homes in these areas, and many still exist. People have bought and sold, knowing full well that the potential for flooding exists, and yet when the inevitable flood occurs, they whine and complain about their loss.

The issues surrounding construction in flood prone areas has progressed to the point where in many, if not most instances a contractor who builds in these areas can be held liable for damages, through a convoluted stream of legalese floodwater. But the issue still stands of what to do about those homes that were build many years ago before the acceptance of the flood plain management theories. Enter the little town of Canton, Maine, located along the Androscoggin River, and the flood of 2003. (report here)

The combinations of weather and water produced an abnormal flooding situation in December of that year, which compounded the problem. Many were left homeless and unable to even retrieve items for immediate survival, thus having to rely on taxpayer assistance for the near term situation. In 2007, Olympia Snowe’s office released this statement;

  • WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) today announced that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has awarded $2,157,678 in funding to assist Canton, Maine in acquiring and demolishing structures that repeatedly flood. The award is part of FEMA’s Pre-Disaster Mitigation Program. Canton was awarded $3.9 million by FEMA in 2005 for the acquisition and removal of 35 structures.”This critical funding will help the flood-prone town of Canton prepare for and prevent damage in the wake of major flooding,” said Senator Snowe. “I am pleased to see the Canton community receive this federal funding that will help our state prepare for future emergencies.”

    The Pre-Disaster Mitigation (PDM) program provides funds to states, territories, Indian tribal governments, communities, and universities for hazard mitigation planning and the implementation of mitigation projects prior to a disaster event. Funding these plans and projects reduces overall risks to the population and structures, while also reducing reliance on funding from actual disaster declarations.

Over two million dollars to buy up and demolish homes in an area that we know is prone to repeated flooding, and that was after four years of study and anguish for people forced from their homes that they felt were safe. I don’t know why the felt that way, I certainly would not, knowing that my home was located on a flood plain. But get this, one year ago in September of 2008. Canton has this bit of news to spread to the world;

  • Canton town leaders are working on a new development project, almost five years after the area was devastated by flooding. Back in December, 2003, heavy rains caused the Androscoggin River to overflow its banks. More than 50 homes were flooded, causing more than $2 million in damage. On Monday evening, town officials and residents toured land off routes 104 and 108 where the town wants to build 44 new homes. The project will mostly be paid for by federal grants, but the town would also be forced to take out a $882,000 loan.

So, are Mainers as numb as those from New Orleans? Or is it just human nature to want to take the easy way out? Sure, it would be easy to build in the area, after all, if it is a one hundred year flood zone, and the flood occurred five years ago, then there is a good chance that they have ninety five years to go before they have to worry again, right? Problem is, nature moves to its own beat, and just because they had a severe flood in 2003 in Canton, it doesn’t mean that there may not be another one this coming winter/spring season.

Flooding in Maine is inevitable, as they say, so why are we not moving away from these areas? A good overview of Maine flooding can be found here, by the way. Why do we rebuild in an area we know to be susceptible to flooding? Perhaps it is because the area is familiar, and because it is familiar and contains our memories, it is more comfortable for us to do so, rather than move one to a new home, and a new life, building new memories.

News reports of the Canton area since the flooding have been mostly positive in regards to people deciding to leave the area and build at higher elevations, but the lure of the water still exist for many. In the same weird way that people in California want to live in areas that are prone to seasonal wildfires, many long for that picturesque water view from their back porch. Whatever the eventual outcome is from the Canton flood plain plans, and New Orleans as well, I hope, but I doubt, that common sense will rule the day and building in areas that are at or below flooding levels will be prohibited. Being stupid is no way to survive the coming times.


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