The swollen Pecatonica River spills into downtown Darlington, Wisconsin, on Thursday, March 14, 2019. (Dave Kettering/Telegraph Herald via AP)

Overview

Spring 2019 was predicted to be particularly bad for flooding and so far, it is proving predictions right. In mid-February, weather.com said, “Spring flooding might be a more widespread problem along rivers in the Midwest and Northeast in 2019 due to a number of accumulating factors over the past several months. The combination of melting snow, additional rain and snow and rising temperatures all play crucial roles in determining how widespread and severe spring river flooding is from March through May in the Midwest and Northeast.”

Source: NOAA

As of March 27, the National Weather Service stated that between March and May:

  • 111 gauges are showing a greater than 50 percent chance of major flooding.
  • 161 gauges are showing a greater than 50 percent chance of moderate flooding.
  • 441 gauges are showing a greater than 50 percent minor flooding.

The majority of the major flood risk falls through the Midwest, the central and southeast states, with nearly all flood risk (of any level) occurring in the eastern half of the country.

While flooding continues throughout many central and Midwestern states, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) is warning that the threat of flooding is far from over. NOAA predicts that two-thirds of the lower 48 states will face flooding – putting 200 million people at risk. The President has issued a federal disaster declaration for Iowa (DR-4421) and Nebraska (DR-4420) on the heels of extensive flooding in those states. This New York Times piece shows the extensiveness of the flooding.

Heavy snow in Canada and throughout the northern U.S. states means many rivers – including the Mississippi, Ohio and Missouri – are at high levels already, with the majority of the snow melt still to come.  The snowpack also has not melted as quickly as normal due to unseasonably cold weather. The bomb cyclone earlier in March that led to much of the Midwest flooding has also left the ground too saturated to absorb more water. Several levee breaches also occurred and are being repaired but may not all be fixed before more water refills the rivers. Additionally, it looks like it will be more thunderstorms than usual this spring. Over a million private wells, mostly in rural communities, are at-risk of being contaminated by flood waters. This could increase reliance of households on bottled water or the need for communities to look at bringing water in to support them.

While water is starting to recede in Nebraska there is still extensive flood damage following the bomb cyclone and heavy rains which led to overflowing rivers and breaches in levees and dams. The governor declared the flooding the worst in 50 years. Hundreds of homes were destroyed, and the Offut Air Force base suffered significant damage.

Recent flooding had a particularly hard impact on the farming industry, especially small, family farms. In Nebraska alone, agriculture – a $20 billion industry – took nearly a $1 billion hit. There are at least $400 million in crop losses and an additional $440 million in cattle lossesTwo Superfund sites were also flooded but damage or contamination have not yet been fully assessed.

In Iowa, more than 2,000 people evacuated and every levee south of Council Bluffs to the Missouri border was breached. In addition to the federal disaster declaration, low-income Iowans can access assistance through the state’s Iowa Individual Assistance Grant Program which “provides grants of up to $5,000 for households with incomes up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level (or a maximum annual income of $42,660 for a family of three). Grants are available for home or car repairs, replacement of clothing or food and temporary housing expenses. Original receipts are required for those seeking reimbursement for actual expenses related to storm recovery. The grant application and instructions are available on the Iowa Department of Human Services website. Potential applicants have 45 days from the date of the proclamation to submit a claim.”

South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem signed an emergency declaration for the state on Friday, March 15, due to flooding. Sioux Falls, Dakota Dunes, Yankton and Rapid City were among the hardest hit areas or those still at risk including the loss of businesses and homes, closing of roads and bridges, power outages and other damage. The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation – home to about 20,000 people, where half live in poverty – was hit with the most significant amount of flooding tribal elders ever remember seeing. It is estimated that recovery could take months.

Wisconsin issued a state of emergency last week and called for evacuations near Columbus but residents have since been allowed to return to their homes if they are accessible. In Green Bay, the evacuated residents have also been allowed to return home but many homes have a condemned tag, although it just refers to the home being uninhabitable due to lack of heat/power.

Minnesota has 39 of 87 counties experiencing flooding as of March 26, with 13 of those declaring local emergencies. The flooding in the Fargo-Moorhead Red River Valley is a test of the changes that have been made to the community and to emergency planning since the big Red River Valley Flood in 2009. Minnesota is home to many watersheds and water from flooding in this state will flow in many directions as the season progresses.

Doniphan County in Kansas also received an emergency declaration because of potential flooding. The City of Elwood held community meetings to keep residents informed about the risks from the Missouri River.

Hundreds of homes were damaged in northwest Missouri with water in the primarily rural area reaching as high as six to seven feet. More than 100 flood-related road closures were also reported. Floodwaters have been receding in that area but the water is high as it flows  south in the state.

High waters from the Yellowstone River have led to flooding in Western North Dakota and eastern Montana. About 50 homes were evacuated and the flooding also caused a small oil spill.

Many roads and highways have been flooded across all of the states. Travelers should check with their state 511 system before traveling.

There has been one death in Iowa and two deaths in Nebraska linked to the flooding. Two other men in Nebraska are missing and presumed dead.

Critical Needs

Floods are a slow, and sometimes predictable, disaster. This means that communities will often know ahead of time that they are going to be hit, especially those on major rivers that have flooded further upstream. But significant rainfall – especially rain bands setting up over a specific area – can upset even the best laid plans.

For areas that have flooded already, the full extent of damage has yet to be determined. Damage assessment is currently being undertaken.

For areas that have not flooded yet there is still some opportunity to fund awareness for prevention and mitigation. Initiatives might include, for example, homeowners preparing simple kits to have on hand in case of evacuation; outlining evacuation routes; and spreading the dangers of driving in flooded waters.

Anticipated immediate needs in flooded areas include:

  • Cleaning, repairing and rebuilding of damaged homes and businesses.
  • Replacement of vehicles, appliances and furniture lost in the floods.
  • Emotional and spiritual care, especially for families of anyone killed but also for individuals who have lost their home, farm and/or business.

Anticipated medium and long-term needs in flooded areas include:

  • Financial support for restoration of property, business recovery and environmental cleanup. Help fill gaps between insurance payouts and actual costs for those in affected communities. Most homeowner’s insurance does not cover against flooding and flood insurance may not cover all costs incurred.
  • Fund remediation of mold in disaster-affected areas.
  • Long-term mental health and trauma support.
  • Support and implement the findings of relevant studies on climate change and on the effects of urbanization on flooding. Mitigating damage in the future will likely take a bigger-picture approach.

Resources

To support the recovery efforts, please donate to CDP’s 2019 Midwest Floods Recovery Fund.

 DONATE HERE

As always, CDP encourages supporting nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and/or community foundations already working in disaster-affected communities. Whether nationally or internationally, funders should seek out the organizations with long-standing relationships in place, in addition to those who understand unique cultural, geographical, and operational differences.

CDP has also created a list of suggestions for foundations to consider related to disaster giving. These include:

Take the long view: Even while focusing on immediate needs, remember that it will take some time for the full range of needs to emerge. Be patient in planning for disaster funding. Recovery will take a long time, and funding will be needed throughout.

Recognize there are places private philanthropy can help that government agencies might not: Private funders have opportunities to develop innovative solutions to help prevent or mitigate future disasters that the government cannot execute.

All funders are disaster philanthropists: Even if your organization does not work in a particular geographic area or fund immediate relief efforts, you can look for ways to tie disaster funding into your existing mission. If you focus on education, health, children or vulnerable populations, disasters present prime opportunities.

Ask the experts: If you are considering supporting an organization that is positioned to work in an affected area, do some research. The Center for Disaster PhilanthropyNational Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters, and InterAction have lists of organizations working in affected communities. What’s more, local community foundations have insights into nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that are best suited to respond in a particular community.

Contact

If you are a responding NGO or a donor, please send updates on how you are working in this crisis to tanya.gulliver-garcia@disasterphilanthropy.org.

If you are a donor looking for recommendations on how to help in this crisis, please email regine.webster@disasterphilanthropy.org.

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