Baton Rouge, Louisiana is still coming to grips with the worst flooding the United States has seen in several years, after two feet of rain displaced 70,000 and killed at least a dozen people.
On Friday, the Baton Rouge Area Chamber estimated the floodwaters had reached 110,000 homes valued at US$20.7 billion.
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“The current flooding in Louisiana is the worst natural disaster to strike the United States since Superstorm Sandy,” Brad Kieserman, vice president for disaster services operations and logistics at the American Red Cross, said last week. The agency “is mounting a massive relief operation, which we anticipate will cost at least $30 million, and that number may grow as we learn more about the scope and magnitude of the devastation.”
(With damages costs of $65 billion, Sandy was the second-most expensive natural disaster in U.S. history, after Hurricane Katrina.)
By the middle of last week, President Barack Obama had issued a disaster declaration covering 20 parishes in the area, and more than 70,000 people had registered for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “This is a very large disaster impacting tens of thousands of people,” said FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate. “Irregardless of what it may be getting in the national coverage, we know this has been a significant impact here in Louisiana.”
But the proportion of affected households with flood insurance could be as low as one in eight, The Advocate reported last week, and FEMA grants are only available in areas where flood insurance isn’t mandatory, according to Grist. “For those who should have bought insurance but didn’t—typically people who’ve paid off their mortgages and so aren’t required by a lender to do it (i.e. older people)—the cost of recovery will be theirs alone,” writes correspondent Katie Herzog. “In a state where nearly 20% of residents live in poverty, that could be a big blow.”
Within days of the initial rainfall, the Washington Post was out with the now-standard explanation that while climate change didn’t “cause” the flood, “it’s precisely the sort of event that you’d expect to see more of” as the climate warms.
“Climate change has already been shown to increase the amounts of rain falling in the most intense events across many parts of the world, and extreme rainfall events like this week’s Louisiana storm are expected [to] grow increasingly common in the coming years,” noted the Weather Underground.
“Louisiana is always at risk of floods, naturally, but climate change is exacerbating that risk, weighting the dice against us,” Texas Tech climate specialist Katharine Hayhoe told The Post’s Chris Mooney. “How long will it be until we finally recognize that the dice are loaded?”
The flooding forced Exxon to cut back production at its Baton Rouge oil refinery, the fourth-largest in the U.S., and posed risks for pipelines, terminals, salt caverns, and above-ground pumping stations, Bloomberg reports.
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