It's Raining, It's Pouring: 6 Awful Floods

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Water, water, water, water"¦ I live in Des Moines so that's sort of all I'm hearing about right now. Rain water, sewer water, river water, bottled water, watery water"¦ there's lots of water everywhere you look right now. Except maybe the grocery stores.

You've probably heard that areas of the Midwest are flooding pretty badly right now; Des Moines is bad but better than some areas. I guess my hometown of Ottumwa is taking a pretty good hit; a friend saw a carp floating down his street yesterday. Here's what Des Moines looks like right now:

That's a road leading into downtown—you can see part of the skyline in the background. For more pictures of DSM, check out my local blog. I'll just say this: some people will not stop their daily runs for anything.

UPDATE: That picture was Wednesday. Here's the same view on Friday... you can see the water is creeping closer to the truck:
truck_friday

Anyway, I figured it was a good time to revisit some big floods of the past. I did leave out some very obvious ones, since I think most of us know the details of those (Katrina flooding, the 2004 tsunami).

The Great Flood of 1993

Let's start with the last flood I remember, which as been called the "100 Year Flood" because a flood like that only happens once every century. Except not, since it's only been 15 years. It has been recorded as one of the most destructive floods in U.S. history, though—about 320,000 square miles were affected when the Mississippi went out of its banks. I remember my mom calling home from work to tell me to fill our bathtub up with water so we had usable water in case the town supply was compromised. It was in Des Moines—the city was out of water entirely for 11 days in July and the water wasn't deemed drinkable until August. Along the Missouri River, more than 700 levees were overflowed or destroyed entirely. St. Louis had water that was 20 feet over the flood level stage and parts of Iowa received up to 48 inches of rain in a five-month period.

A man in Illinois actually received a life sentence for his role in the flooding there—he removed sandbags from a levee because he wanted to strand his wife on the other side of the river. When the water found its way through the hole he had created, 14,000 acres of farmland were flooded, buildings were destroyed and a bridge was closed.

Some areas off of the Mississippi were flooded for nearly 200 days. About 10,000 homes were destroyed, along with 15 million acres of farmland and two entire towns (Valmeyer, Ill. and Rhineland, Mo.). The official death toll was 32 and the damage was estimated at $20 billion.

The 1931 China floods

1931This flood and the flood of '93 sound bad, but maybe we've actually been lucky—the 1931 China floods claimed the lives of somewhere between 800,000 and four million citizens. I know; quite the discrepancy. Either way, it's an astronomical number. Thus far, it's thought to be the deadliest natural disaster ever recorded (not counting pandemics).

The area had been plagued with weather problems for at least two years leading up to the big floods—first, a long draught from 1928-1930. Very heavy snowstorms hit during the winter of 1930/1931 and heavy rains that spring. Then, in July, the area was pummeled with cyclones, and, finally, the flood. Most major rivers in China flooded substantially, including the Yangtze, the Yellow and the Huai.

The North Sea Flood of 1953

The Netherlands, England, Belgium, Denmark and France were all affected by flooding and storms when a high tide and a severe windstorm combined in 1953. About 2400 lives were lost, including the passengers on the MV Princess Victoria ferry, which was lost at sea. Most of the Netherlands' 1800+ fatalities were from one night—January 31/February 1—when dykes in the provinces of Zeeland, Zuid-Holland and Noord-Brabant broke down. An estimated 70,000 people were evacuated, 47,300 buildings were damaged and 10,000 were destroyed. At the time, damage was approximately 895 million guilders.

It could have been worse for Netherland, though. A hole in the Schielandse Hoge Zeedijk dyke could have meant the death of three million people if not plugged. The mayor of Nieuwerkerk had a ship lodge itself in the hole, and to everyone's surprise, the plan worked.

All of this devastation resulted in something good, though—the Delta Works (a combination of dams, sluices, locks, dikes and storm surge barriers) were created. They are thought to be the world's largest and most elaborate protection against flooding.

The Red River Flood of 1997

red riverThis one stretched across North Dakota, Minnesota and Manitoba. It was a pretty nasty one—more than 50,000 people (at the time it was the biggest U.S. evacuation since the Civil War) were evacuated in Grand Forks, N.D. and a fire started in the town, destroying 11 buildings and 60 apartments. Manitoba alone suffered more than $500 million in damages. But this is nothing new for residents along the Red River; it has flooded repeatedly (and severely) since at least 1770. In fact, in 1950, the River overflowed and turned more than 600 square miles of farmland into a big (nasty) swimming pool. (P.S... that's the Sorlie Bridge that connects Grand Forks, N.D., and East Grand Forks, Minn.)

The 2000 Mozambique flood

birthIn 2000, Mozambique was pounded with rain for five weeks. The result was a flood that killed 800 people and 20,000 cattle. The agriculture suffered horribly following the flood—113,000 small farming households were ruined and 90 percent of the entire country's irrigation infrastructure was at least damaged. The second largest hospital in the country was totally destroyed along with 41 other health institutions. About 214,000 students were left without classrooms when 630 schools closed.

Even though 800 died, more than 45,000 were rescued from places like rooftops and trees. One woman even gave birth while stranded in a tree.

The Hunter Valley floods of 1955

maitlandThese floods (AKA the Maitland Flood) in 1955 were some of the worst Australia has ever seen. Rivers on both sides of the Great Dividing Range left their banks by a lot. Their combined floodwaters made a sea in the middle of the continent that was the size of England and Wales. The city of Maitland was hit the worst—58 homes were completely washed away and 103 were damaged beyond repair. A total of 2,180 had water damage. Twenty-five people died, but not all from drowning—three people died when a helicopter blade severed power lines, electrocuting people dangling from the helicopter who were being taken to safety. The helicopter exploded. Sadly, all of this devastation happened in only six days.

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June 13, 2008 - 5:09am
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