Missouri Flood Buyouts Save Lives, Heartache And Money

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Release date: 
September 1, 2008
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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- The record-setting and unprecedented flooding that lasted from the spring of 1993 into the early part of 1994 served as the catalyst for Missouri governments to look for solutions to the devastation and suffering caused by the massive floods.

As a result, voluntary acquisitions or buyouts of flood-prone properties became the choice of action using Federal Emergency Management Agency, state and local government funds. The program has been widely successful and proved itself again during the floods of 2008.

Faced with the grim fact that 37,000 people were displaced from their homes for prolonged periods in the 1993 flooding, state leaders embarked on a buyout program that became a model for the nation.

In the book, Natural Hazard Mitigation; Recasting Disaster Policy and Planning (1998), authors David Godchalk, Timothy Beatley, Phillip Berke, and David Brower wrote: "The state of Missouri took advantage of a window of opportunity to make the system work in a way that appears to be unmatched in our case studies."

Because of the large number of residents displaced, coupled with the prolonged flooding, state and local government leaders realized that success of the program would be measured by how quickly the buyouts took place.

This intensified in May of 1995, when the state was inundated once again to nearly the same record levels of the 1993 events.

By that time, the program had gained popularity - 2,000 properties had been acquired in 50 separate communities.

"It was an endorsement that the effort was of great benefit to the victims devastated by repeated flooding, and we already had many satisfied customers," says Buck Katt, SEMA's deputy director at the time and the state's main architect of the plan.

In the years following 1995, additional mitigation funds became available and the state continued the effort. To date, the state and local governments have completed buyouts in 99 separate communities totaling 4,045 properties.

The buyout effort cost the taxpayers just under $75 million. The fact that thousands of Missouri families permanently escaped the misery of future floods is, of course, obvious and very important. What may not be so obvious is that although the people are gone, the majority of the now vacant land has flooded more than once since 1993.

Significant flooding of much of the "bought out" properties has occurred in 2008. Communities along the Missouri River were for the most part spared this time but for many on the Mississippi River, it was a repeat of years past. Those families voluntarily participating in the buyout program following the 1993 era were spared the despair of being forced out of their homes, as flood waters once again inundated the property they used to own.

Hannibal resident Nancy Jackson had lived in her house for 22 years, so when the nearby Mississippi River flooded her property in 1993, it was especially hard for her to consider moving.

After suffering repeated flood events beginning in 1973, the 1993 event convinced her to take the buyout.

In 2008, the great river washed 6 to 8 feet of muddy water over her previously-owned property, and that of her 115 Hannibal neighbors, who were also bought out.

Arnold, Mo., situated at the confluence of the Meramec and the Mississippi, also took advantage of the buyout program. The acceptance of the program by city residents who lived in harm's way was unique.

"The voluntary agreement of the owners of the 322 properties purchased by the city has removed all but six homes from the floodplain," says Arnold's Director of Administration Greg Hall. "A buyout program made the most sense for our city because we didn't have any industries in the floodplain."

The need for disaster assistance from the city as well as from FEMA's assistance to families has been almos...

Last Updated: 
July 16, 2012 - 18:46
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