As floodwaters continue to rise along the lower Mississippi River, it’s clear the slow-motion disaster will be among the costliest wintertime flood events in U.S. history. Officials are simply trying to tally the price tag.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said Thursday that damage from the floods will top $1 billion. That number is likely to climb as the unpredictable and overflowing Mississippi continues its march south.
Over the weekend and into next week, floodwaters will continue to rise along the Mississippi River in Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana, including the cities of Greenville and Natchez, Miss., and Baton Rouge, according to AccuWeather. Minor-to-moderate flooding is possible south of Baton Rouge to New Orleans this month.
Workers from the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) attempt to pump water off I-55 near Arnold, Mo. on Dec. 31. Flooding from the nearby Meramec River, a tributary of the Mississippi River, flooded the highway, closing the main artery between St. Louis and Memphis. Sid Hastings, epa
In recent weeks, the floods severely damaged homes, businesses and farms that line the Mississippi and its tributaries in Missouri and Illinois, where at least 25 deaths were blamed on the weather.
Once all the costs of lost business and damaged roads, bridges and public buildings are added up, it’s a “safe bet” the total loss will exceed $1 billion, said Steve Bowen, a meteorologist with Aon Benfield, a global reinsurance firm based in London.
That estimate comes from preliminary damage assessment information from federal and local officials and on early insurance claims in affected areas.
For example, in and around the St. Louis area, floods have damaged or destroyed an estimated 7,100 structures, according to Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, and at least a half-million tons of debris will need to be removed. Repairs to roads in St. Louis County will top $200 million.
In southwestern Missouri’s Greene County, flood damage cost almost $1 million, according to the Springfield-Greene County Office of Emergency Management.
Government officials are calculating damage in Illinois, where Gov. Bruce Rauner issued state disaster declarations for 23 counties, mainly in central and southern parts of the state.
Most of the costliest wintertime flood disasters on record occurred in the West. The highest price tags occurred with the California floods in 1995 that cost $5 billion, and the El Niño-driven West Coast floods in 1997 that cost $4 billion, Bowen said.
“That is what has made this current event so unique, since we don’t expect this kind of flooding in the Midwest and Mississippi Valley until the spring,” he said.
Missouri picked up almost three times its average rainfall in November and December, said Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research. The Mississippi River at Cape Girardeau, Mo., set an all-time flood record of 48.86 feet last week, breaking a record set during the floods of 1993, the National Weather Service said.
The floods stem from heavy rains linked to El Niño and man-made climate change, Trenberth said. Such unusual rain and flooding at this time of year would have been outside the realm of possibility were it not for those outside factors, he said.