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5 Most Destructive Floods in Modern American History

America’s number one natural hazard is flooding. In the course of its history, a few States have experienced some of the most devastating floods the world has ever seen. Floods have been responsible for some of the Nation’s greatest losses – both monetary damages and human casualties. Though many of the most devastating floods date back to the early 20th century, modern flooding has had its own history of destruction.

Hurricane Katrina Flood (2005)

In August of 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall in New Orleans. Though an evacuation order had been given, over 100,000 residents couldn’t leave because they didn’t have access to a vehicle. Of those, 10,000 sought refuge at the Superdome Sports Stadium, while many others remained in their residences. The storm surge brought waters up to almost 30 feet, submerging as much as 80% of the city. In the aftermath, 34,000 people were rescued, while the city suffered the loss of some 2,000 lives of its residents. The area sustained $150 billion in property damage, making it one of the most costly floods in American history.

The Willamette Valley Flood (1996)

The Willamette Valley Flood remains the most destructive and deadly in Oregon’s history. Abnormally high rainfall raised water levels in early January, while a freeze and heavy snowstorm added to the precipitation level later in the month. When the weather abruptly warmed on February 6, the combination of groundwater saturation and melting snow resulted in massive flooding that extended from the Willamette Valley all the way to the coast. The Willamette River, which runs through Portland, rose to an astounding 28.5 feet and came within inches of cresting the seawall. In total, the city displaced 3,000 citizens from their homes and the Pacific Northwest suffered $500 million in property damage.

The North California Floods (1995)

Tropical storm “El Nino” brought record-breaking rainfall to Northern California in the first few months of 1995. Up 20 inches of precipitation dumped on the area in a single day. Similar rainfalls continued for nearly 3 months, swelling rivers and flooding the northern part of The Golden State. 27 lives were lost and the flooding caused $4.29 billion in property damage. Some towns, including Roseville and Rio Linda, were completely destroyed.

Mississippi River Flood (1993)

Also known as The Great Flood of 1993, persistent storms resulted in floods that ravaged the area surrounding the Mississippi and Missouri rivers for five months. Due to long-lasting flooding, many areas were unable to receive the help they needed for months. The area sustained high property damage – estimated between $15 and $20 billion. However, the slow but steady increase of water levels meant that relatively few lives were lost – 32 – compared to storms with similar costs in property damage.

Failure of Laurel Run Dam (1977)

Not all flooding is weather-related, as the 1977 catastrophic failure of the Laurel Run Dam in Johnstown, Pennsylvania reminds us. That spring, a deluge of rain hit the area causing the Laurel Run Dam, an old earthen dam completed in the year 1919, to fail. It released over 100 million gallons of water into the local area, which spilled over other dams and caused a chain reaction of failures. In the end, over 80 people died. The area sustained $213 million in property damage. And the area’s long-standing reputation as “flood free” was shown to be a myth.

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