Top 10 US Floods of All Time

Flooded I-10/I-610 interchange and surrounding...

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Top 10 US Floods of All Time

The US has seen some pretty horrific flooding over the last 150 years or so, well, there were probably some before then too but we didn’t have the same records then as we do now. Anyway, take a look at this list of the worst 10 floods to hit US of all time, starting with the most recent.

Hurricane Katrina – 2005

I thought I’d start with one which we should all remember, the single costliest natural disaster in the history of the US, a startling estimated $81 billion worth of damages. Hurricane Katrina had an impact on the lives of 15 million people, with around 1,800 deaths. Hurricane Katrina and the flooding that followed left 80% of New Orleans under the water, changing the face of the city forever.

Mississippi River – 1993

This one will be the one that many remember as the flood that came and just would not go away, for 81 consecutive days. The damages cost an estimated $15 billion (it was top until Hurricane Katrina knocked it off the perch), and more than 50 people lost their lives. It really did seem to go on forever . . . and ever.

Big Thompson Canyon, Colorado – 1976

In complete contrast to the ever-lasting Mississippi River flood, the flash floods that hit Big Thompson Canyon, Colorado in 1976 happened literally overnight. Records say that the rains started evening time on July 31 and by early the next morning 12 inches of rain had fallen in the narrow canyon. 144 people died in the intense waters, they just didn’t have enough warning to escape, or anywhere to go, they were simply washed away.

Rapid City, S.D. – 1972

238 people died in the floods in Rapid City, June 1972. Another flash flood, the waters from the plains poured into Rapid City, close to the Black Hills of Dakota in the night time. People had no warning, they woke up suddenly, were probably disoriented and didn’t even realize what was happening until it is just too late. This is what makes flash floods particularly dangerous.

Hurricane Camille – 1969

The flooding caused by Hurricane Camille was nationwide, although Virginia was the hardest hit. Hitting the land primarily in the Gulf before moving inland towards the Appalachians, it caused a series of flash floods before eventually hitting the Atlantic ocean. Storms raged through Virginia destroying everything in their path, in fact, only one highway was left intact. The Disaster Relief Act of 1969 was passed as a direct result of Hurricane Camille and the realization that nobody was safe from flooding, not even inland communities.

Ohio River – 1937

When the Ohio River flooded in 1937 it left many people homeless, some of which lived an incredible 30 miles away from the river. The impact was felt for months afterwards, with families all moving in together and the whole community really helping each other out. An estimated $20 million of damage was caused, and in 1937 that WAS a lot of money, well, it’s still a lot of money actually!

Mississippi River – 1927

The Mississippi River is the only one to take two places, the first flood in 1927 being the most destructive river flood in US history killing 500 people and rendering a further 600,000 homeless. Yes, I know that Hurricane Katrina killed more people than that, that’s why I said river flood . . . do try to keep up.  Anyway, back to the story, an amazing 26,000 square miles of land was flooded by the mighty Mississippi in 1927, the river was an incredible 80 miles wide in parts. The experiences around the Mississippi in 1927 have largely shaped policies about levees and engineering to this day.

Galveston, Texas – 1900

8,000 people died in Galveston, Texas, on September 8 1900, when a category 4 hurricane created a storm surge and hurled water on Galveston helped by the 135 mile per hour winds. The helpless people simply drowned in the melee.

Johnstown, PA – 1889

More than 2,200 people died when the South Fork Dam burst in 1889, unleashing around 20 million tons of water. As it surged towards Johnstown, a mere 14 miles away, it’s reported that a 30 foot wall of water smashed upon the town at speeds of up to 40 miles per hour within the hour. Horrifying.

Central Valley, California – 1861-62

This was the storm which bankrupted California . . . literally. An enormous amount of rain was unleashed on 300 miles of California’s Central Valley, 20 miles wide, destroying 25% of the taxable real estate in the states. Now then, if you think that real estate tax was virtually the major source of income at the time, that was quite a bitter pill to swallow. It’s reckoned that, if the same thing happened in these times it would cost around $725 billion in damages.

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