EL Ni?o: Gone But Not Forgotten

Main Content
Release date: 
February 9, 1999
Release Number: 
R9-99-03

San Francisco, February 9, 1999 -- A year has passed since the weather phenomenon called El Niño became a household name. In 1998, it was a topic on everyone's lips - a wet scourge that was blamed for sundry ills, often in jest.

For thousands of Californians, however, El Niño was no laughing matter. It became a major event in their lives, unforgettable in its destructive series of storms, floods and landslides.

On February 9, 1998, President Bill Clinton declared a disaster in California, responding to a request by then-Governor Pete Wilson. By March, 40 counties had been designated disaster areas. Residents, business owners and local governments in those counties became eligible for, and received, various kinds of assistance.

One year later, El Niños is gone but not forgotten.

Statewide, El Niño resulted in at least 17 deaths and 29 major injuries. It caused more than 700 million dollars' worth of damage to public and private property. Approximately 75,000 individuals, households and business owners registered for several kinds of disaster assistance from the federal and state governments.

"We remain committed to working closely with our local and state partners in the El Niño recovery," said Michael Lowder, federal coordinating officer for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). "Meanwhile, we urge everyone to take actions that will lessen the risk of future floods and other types of disasters."

As severe as it was, the toll might have been much greater, but California heeded warnings and got ready for bad weather.

"Last year's experience proves that disaster preparedness and mitigation work," said Lowder. "Damages were far less in 1998 than what our state suffered from the 1995 or the 1997 storms. In large part, this was because protective measures were taken in advance, starting at the local level."

"Californians' mitigation efforts in the past four years have been quite effective in minimizing losses," added Lowder.

"We also urge people to get flood insurance," Lowder said. "It's a crucial part of protecting yourself and your property."

El Niño damage and assistance costs are summarized in the attached page.

DAMAGE COSTS - 1998 El Niño Storms (CALIFORNIA)

Estimated losses, as of [month/year]

  • Agriculture $532 million
  • Highways and roads $223 million
  • Insured losses (primarily homes and automobiles) $160 million

  • Total $915 million
    Estimated federal/state assistance, as of [month/year]

  • U.S. Small Business Administration disaster loans $87.4 million
  • Public Assistance (infrastructure) $169.7 million
  • Temporary Housing Assistance grants $28.4 million
  • Hazard Mitigation grants $31.7 million
  • Individual and Family grants $7.6 million

  • Total $324.8 million
Last Updated: 
July 19, 2012 - 23:02
State/Tribal Government or Region: