Seattle, Wash. -- Forecasters began warning of La Niña-driven winter storms for northern tier states early last spring, and the back-to-back storm fronts sweeping in from the Pacific in recent weeks were no surprise. The storms came...but the disasters didn't! Images of flooded roads, snowed-in mountain passes, power outages and mudslides were aired nation-wide on network news, and local media provided hourly updates for hard-pressed residents. But for the most part, when the passes cleared, and the river levels dropped, damage was minimal. According to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) regional deputy director Ray Williams, it was a significant example of effective mitigation at work.
"We've come a long way since the winter storms of '96 and '97 in terms of increased flood insurance subscribers, flood plain management, and community mitigation efforts," said Williams. "I don't mean to trivialize the experiences of families and businesses that did indeed suffer from storm damage. And we can't forget that winter is officially less than a few weeks old. But, so far - so good. The effects were local, and for the most part were dealt with -- very effectively dealt with -- locally."
Chuck Steele, FEMA regional mitigation division director concurred. "More than 15 percent of the total costs of previous years' Presidentially-declared disasters were turned over to the respective states for specific mitigation projects to reduce the costs of future disasters," said Steele. "Local jurisdictions bought out structures subject to repeated flooding, removed the structures, and rezoned the areas as open land. Infrastructures were "hardened" against floods, damaged structures were rebuilt to code or elevated above flood levels to reduce the likelihood of future damage, and flood maps were updated. Our whole region enters 1999 more disaster-resistant."
Flood insurance is the best possible protection from flood losses. The number of National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) policy holders has grown to over 57,000 policies in Region X (Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington state) in the last three years, representing a growth of 95 percent.
Acquisition is one of the best forms of floodplain management, and 512 structures have been bought out and removed since the '96 floods. Removal of structures from the floodplain means that those structures will never flood again - ever.
Over 200 flood-prone homes have been elevated above their 100-year flood levels - 153 in Washington state alone. Between acquisition, relocation, and elevation of flood plain structures in the last 3 years, FEMA Region X has spent approximately $38 million here in the Pacific Northwest.