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 those predictions were right. In mid-February, weather.com said, “Spring flooding might be a more widespread problem along rivers in the Midwest and Northeast in 2019 because of 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

The threat continues into summer. In early June, the National Weather Service stated that through the end of August:

  • 76 gauges are showing a greater than 50 percent chance of major flooding.
  • 98 gauges are showing a greater than 50 percent chance of moderate flooding.
  • 205 gauges are showing a greater than 50 percent minor flooding.

At one point in the spring of 2019, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) warned that two-thirds of the lower 48 states could see flooding. The President issued federal disaster declarations for flooding in Iowa (DR-4421);  (DR-4430), Kansas (EM-3412) and Nebraska (DR-4420) on the heels of extensive inundations in those states. This New York Times piece documented the extensiveness of the flooding.

Heavy snow in Canada and throughout the northern U.S. states ensured many rivers – including the Mississippi, Ohio and Missouri – were at high levels before “Biblical rains” and pounded the Corn Belt, causing the Army Corps of Engineers to open spillways along the Arkansas River, which flooded towns in Oklahoma and Arkansas. Further north, water levels have yet to recede in the Missouri River as Gavins Point Dam on the Nebraska-South Dakota border released double its normal volume of water for more than a month. That put the river at minor flood stage at several points between the dam and Mississippi River. That follows flooding from the bomb cyclone in March. Then the governor declared the flooding the worst in 50 years. Hundreds of homes were destroyed, and the Offut Air Force base suffered significant damage.

As a result of all the rain, the Mississippi River crested at nearly 46 feet in St. Louis in mid-June, just below the record set in 1993. Still, the high water and fast current has snarled barge traffic on the river, and the effects are far reaching. Parts of the Ohio and Illinois rivers are also affected. Some forecasts call for the high water to remain in some areas through July.

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 were at least $400 million in crop losses and an additional $440 million in cattle lossesTwo Superfund sites were also flooded. In a second blow to the farm industry, heavy rains in May and June disrupted planting seasons for corn and soybeans across much of the Midwest.

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 were eligible for 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). The application deadline was June 11.

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 and called for evacuations near Columbus. In Green Bay, many residents return to homes have with a condemned tag, although it mainly referred to the home being uninhabitable due to lack of heat/power.

Minnesota has 39 of 87 counties had some 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 caused flooding in Western North Dakota and eastern Montana. About 50 homes were evacuated and the flooding also caused a small oil spill.

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. A Missouri man was the fourth confirmed death due to flooding in May.

Critical Needs

Floods are a slow, and sometimes predictable, disaster. This means that communities 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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