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The city of Miami Beach is in a very precarious position; the land it perches upon is at once being gobbled by sea level rise, eroded by increasingly vicious and frequent storms, and is sinking due to its sandy and unstable base. The threats facing this city are so dire that it has been predicted that many properties close to the oceanfront will inevitably be lost to the sea during the coming decades.
In order to stave off this fate as long as possible, the City of Miami Beach has invested heavily in a system of pumps to literally bail out the municipality like a leaky lifeboat. With $500 million sunk into the project, residents and property owners in Miami Beach were optimistic that the investment would pay off during large storms … and possibly even hurricanes. But a recent “test run” during the aftermath of Tropical Storm Emily dashed those hopes.
Click here to read full story on Miami New Times
As we approach the one-year anniversary of the historic floods that wiped out the quaint Main Street business district of Ellicott City, Maryland; a visit to the area reveals much progress, but also evidence of lives changed forever. Two lives were lost during that horrible flood, which occurred on July 30, 2016. The friends and family of those two people will never be the same, and many who were injured are also still struggling to recover fully.
In addition to these tragic human losses, there was also massive damage suffered by businesses and other property owners. Ellicott City is situated in a highly vulnerable location, nestled in a valley of the mighty Patapsco River, which normally flows placidly through the area. Canals shoot off from the main river, and in bygone days mules would be seen pulling barges up and down the canals to areas of commerce. Ellicott City was one such commercial hub, and milling was the main industry. Many years ago the canal barges brought raw corn, paper materials, and lumber to the mills of Ellicott City, and the fact that the mills were directly off the canals made this commerce convenient. The city thrived, and during the 1800’s Ellicott City became one of the most important manufacturing and milling towns on the entire east coast.
However, the vulnerability of the town’s location also resulted in frequent floods, and Ellicott City was all but wiped off the map many times over the past two centuries. Since the year 1817, the town has suffered 16 extremely devastating floods, with many lives lost and unimaginable property damage. Homes, businesses, vehicles, and livestock were swept away over and over again.
As bad as these historic floods were, they all pale in comparison to the flood that destroyed Ellicott City last summer. This flood will go down in history as the worst … at least for now. Meteorologists are calling the flood of 2016 a ‘thousand-year flood’, a description that may provide false hope to the town’s residents and shopkeepers … because it is likely to happen again sooner than that. Whereas Ellicott City was once a gritty factory and mill town, it is today a genteel and affluent community with a Main Street lined with antique shops and trendy, high-end restaurants. For this reason, the dollar amount of the property damage was much, much higher than may have been expected from such a small town.
This map shows the Ellicott City National Register Historic District, and surrounding areas, that were affected by the recent flooding in Ellicott City. Click on the map to enlarge it.
Four months after the flood, almost half of the businesses along Main Street were still not reopened. Debris was still piled up here and there, and infrastructure such as bridges, roads, and sidewalks were still in the process of being repaired or replaced. The delay in reopening the former businesses or replacing them with new ones cast a pall over the once-bustling Main Street. After the flood, millions of dollars poured in from donors and grants, and the effort to restore Main Street was underway almost immediately. But many business owners elected to move away from the vulnerable flood zone, while others found that their expensive flood insurance policies were not being honored by the insurance companies. This delay in getting the city back on its feet meant that many visitors went away disappointed, and this is never good for business.
The historic Main Street of Ellicott City reopened for business just three months after the flood, and today the street is once again thronged with shoppers and tourists. But those who lived through the flood at close hand will never again look at the quaint district the same way- and they will live in dread of the next deluge.
In early February a Nevada earthen dam failed and caused major flooding, in spite of the fact that the dam had passed an inspection just months before. The dam did not pass the inspection with flying colors, however, and the participating hydro-engineers produced a list of recommendations for improvements that did not receive follow-up attention. This type of lapse is very common, especially in rural areas that may be burdened with low budgets and aging infrastructure.
The dam that failed is called the Twentyone Mile Dam, and it is designed to hold water to be used for irrigation in Elko County, Nevada. The dam is not considered a high priority installation, because it is located in a deeply rural area — any failure of the dam is not expected to cause loss of human lives. Nevertheless, the failure caused major flash flooding that wiped out a nearby state highway and flooded out nearby homes and ranches.
STUART JOHNSON/THE DESERET NEWS / AP
About thirty homes were flooded by the dam failure, and a full ten miles of the main highway was closed due to the washed-out roadway. It is impossible to overstate the importance of a main highway to a rural community — without this lifeline, transportation and access becomes almost impossible for the entire community. The community most affected by this event is a tiny town called Montello, Nevada, population 84. All the residents of Montello were impacted by the flooding caused by the failed dam — either due to direct flooding of their homes or from being cut off due to the highway closure. Not many people were affected by this flooding, thanks to the sparse population of the area, but those who were affected have suffered massive inconvenience; and in some cases, moments of terror.
Unusually heavy rainfall is being blamed for the failure of the dam. Earthen dams can be weakened by many factors, including seepage, root systems, erosion, and age. In the case of the Twentyone Mile Dam, a sudden and catastrophic breach occurred, causing almost instantaneous flash flooding that coursed through the countryside and directly across the important state highway that leads to Utah. One trucker who was on the highway at the time of the flash flooding came very close to losing his life. Seeing that the road was breaking up beneath the wheels of his truck, this lucky driver floored the truck’s gas pedal for several miles, surrounded by rising water and watching in the rear-view mirror as the road crumbled behind him. He made it to safety, but had to spend a nerve-wracking night in his stranded truck, watching roiling high water all around him throughout the night.
Repairing the dam and the damage caused by its sudden failure was at first thought to be a matter of weeks. Now, however, engineers have had a chance to more completely survey the extensive damage caused by the flooding, and the repair schedule — with its hefty price tag — is known to be much more onerous than initially hoped. Tiny Montello is now nationally famous for this disastrous flood, which all but wiped it off the map.
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