FEMA URGES CALIFORNIA RESIDENTS TO PREPARE NOW FOR WINTER FLOODING
Washington, D.C. While spring and summer months typically bring wet, soggy weather to many regions of the U.S., it is winter storms and the precipitation they bring which can wreak havoc in Western states. Winter rains can often lead to intense flooding and mudflows, causing millions of dollars in property damage year after year.
The last winter season produced one of the top-five wettest on record in California, leading Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to declare a state of emergency in seven counties. This year, California residents are particularly vulnerable to flooding, as fires scorched more than 600,000 acres within the state during the record-breaking 2006 Wildfire Season. The charred and denuded ground in these areas cannot easily absorb rainwater, thus increasing the likelihood of flooding and mudflows.
"California's winter rainy season lasts from November through March. Homeowners, business owners and renters need to know how they can prepare for severe winter rain and floods," said David Maurstad, Director of Mitigation and Federal Insurance Administrator for FEMA. "Flood insurance backed by the National Flood Insurance Program offers the best protection available against floods and mudflows, which, historically, occur swiftly and without warning."
North of California, severe storms have already swamped residents of Oregon and Washington with record-breaking rainfall in early November. Hundreds of homes and businesses were threatened as the storms dumped as much as eight to fifteen inches of rain within a few days.
In fact, the winter months are especially dangerous for the majority of states west of the Mississippi. From November 2005 through April 2006, large-scale, widespread Federal disasters involving floods were declared in California, Oregon, Nevada, Idaho, Missouri, Minnesota, North Dakota and Washington. U.S. homeowners, business owners and renters filed more than 4,000 flood insurance claims and received more than $122.8 million in flood insurance claims during that time period.
Eastern states are also not immune to winter floods. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts an El Nino will affect weather patterns in the U.S. until spring 2007, causing wetter-than-average conditions throughout the Gulf Coast and the south Atlantic Coast, in addition to the Southwest.
Furthermore, Nor'easters, which are large, low-pressure areas whose winds come from the Northeast, cause severe winter storms that can lead to flooding throughout New England and the Mid-Atlantic. Last February, the Blizzard of 2006 dumped heavy snow from Virginia to Maine, with New York City receiving 26.9 inches, an all-time record.
And finally, spring rains and snowmelt can overwhelm the banks of the Mississippi River, placing residents of adjoining states at risk. These states include Minnesota, North Dakota, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi and Louisiana.
FEMA offers the following tips to prepare for winter flooding:
Before the Storm
- Have a safety kit with drinking water, a first-aid kit, canned food, radio, flashlight and blankets.
- Know safe routes from home, work and school that are on higher ground.
- Protect your property. Most homeowners insurance doesn't cover flooding. Make sure that your flood insurance policy is up to date.
During the Storm
- If flooding occurs, go to higher ground. Get out of areas subject to flooding. This includes dips, low spots, canyons, washes etc.
- Avoid areas already flooded, especially if the water is flowing fast. Do not attempt to cross flowing streams.
- Roadbeds may be washed out under flood waters. NEVER drive through flooded roadways. If your vehicle is suddenly caught in rising water, leave it immediately and seek higher ground.
After the Storm
- Do not turn electricity back on in your home if you detect gas or if the electrical system has been flooded.
- Clean and disinfect everything that was touched by floodwaters or mudflows and throw out any such foodstuffs.
- Follow directions from local officials regarding the safety of drinking water.
Flood insurance is available through nearly 100 insurance companies in more than 21,000 participating communities nationwide. Everyone can purchase flood insurance renters, business owners, and homeowners. The average flood insurance policy is around $500 a year. And in moderate-to-low risk areas, lower-cost Preferred Risk Policies (PRPs) start at just $112 a year. Individuals can learn more about their flood risk and how to protect their property by visiting FloodSmart.gov or by calling 1-800-427-2419.