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    Why Do People Live in a Flood Zone?

    May 12, 2011; 3:00 AM ET
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    One resident of Satartia, Miss., has encircled his home with barriers designed to keep river debris from damaging his house frame Monday, May 9, 2011. The backflow of flood waters from the Mississippi River now mixes with those of the Yazoo River to threaten residents of this small rural community. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

    With all of the flooding going on this spring and over the years, why do so many people live in a flood zone and what can be done to cushion the blow when flooding strikes?

    This story will shed some light as to why so many people live, rebuild and move to areas that are threatened by flood waters.

    To answer a big part of this question, you have to go back decades and even centuries when the land was first being settled.

    Just about every major city in the nation and throughout the world for that matter is located along a river, lake or seacoast.

    Way back when, water was the primary and most economical means of moving people and goods. While travel over the water brought its perils, the speed at which it delivered far outweighed the slow-going horse and oxen.

    Trading posts along the waterways grew into towns and cities as the industrial revolution took hold. Water was a means to run factories and mills. The industries created jobs directly, while the need for support of these workers led to secondary jobs. Over the decades, this hasn't changed much.

    With today's high cost of commuting, it is no wonder why so many people live close to work.

    From a farming standpoint, river valleys have some of the richest soil to be found anywhere. The action of floods brings in sediments and nutrients necessary for crops to grow.

    If your fields are along the river, chances are your farmhouse will be nearby.

    So in a roundabout way we have answered a big part of the question: jobs.

    Other reasons

    There are probably dozens of reasons we can all think of as to why your home is where it is.

    You may want to be close to friends and family, or you may just love the neighborhood and have grown attached to your surroundings.

    You have probably made improvements to your house and landscape over the years and don't want to part with them.

    These are all part of what make a house a home.

    False Sense of Security?

    Advancements in technology, including flood control and development of "wasteland," have lured many new people into flood-prone areas.

    No doubt we all need a place to live and the growing population in itself has resulted in housing developments where "no man has gone before," or at least where no man has resided before.

    Indeed, storm drains, pumps, runoff ponds and levees all make many neighborhoods more flood-proof. However, they are really only more flood-resistant, rather than flood-proof.

    Levee systems are engineered to contain a certain flood, say a 100-year event for example. However, eventually a flood will come along that exceeds the 100-year event.

    The same is true in the design of storm drains of major cities.

    So even if your neighborhood is protected by a 30-foot levee, there may along come a flood in your lifetime or your children's lifetime that tops the levee.

    Interestingly, just because you may have recently had a once-in-100-years flood, this does not mean that another won't happen soon. These events are based on "averages." It is possible to go 200 years without a 100-year flood or there can be two 100-year floods within a single decade.

    Granted most of the time, life along a river, lake or the sea is beautiful. Just remember, every once in a while there will be trouble in paradise. It may be a flood along a lake or river, or a hurricane or strong winter storm along the coast that brings a storm surge.

    What Can You Do?

    It is understandable that moving out of a flood plain may be cost prohibitive for both the home owner and business owner.

    From a business standpoint, you are not going to locate a business where there are no people.

    Are you willing to roll the dice?

    No doubt working in the expense of flood insurance into your budget will take some hardship and adjustment. However, at least you will be prepared for that fateful day if it comes during your lifetime.


    Graphic appears courtesy of FEMA.

    Take it from a person who went through a flood and lost a home without flood insurance. Levees 35 feet high protected our humble town for years prior to June 1972.

    Certainly, the levees protected our area from high water every few years, but eventually a flood came along that was much bigger than the others.

    It took my parents and my wife's parents 20 years to recover from the financial loss sustained during the event. I am sure the same was true for the tens of thousands in the area who were in the same situation with no flood insurance.

    Floods and other natural disasters have been around for millions of years, and they are not going to go away just because modern engineering has made things safer.

    So while we live where we live as a matter of necessity and pride, it doesn't mean we have to be foolish.

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