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Floods dominate presidential disaster declarations: Pew

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Most of the presidential disaster declarations issued over the past decade have involved flooding events, many of which occurred in landlocked states, according to a new analysis.

Flooding is the most common natural disaster in the United States, with hurricanes, severe storms, heavy downpours and other flood-related events accounting for 73% of presidential disaster declarations over the 2008-2017 time period, according to an analysis of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster declaration database conducted by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

“Last year tied the record for the most billion-dollar natural disasters in the U.S.,” authors Laura Lightbody, director of the flood-prepared communities' initiative of the Pew Charitable Trusts in Washington, and Forbes Tompkins, an officer with the initiative, said in their analysis, released Thursday. “While no one knows what extreme weather will bring in 2018, Americans across the country should be ready for flooding, based on the frequency and magnitude of such events over the past decade.”

But major flooding in landlocked states has been more common than along the coasts, with eight out of 10 states receiving the most flood-related disaster declarations being inland states, according to the analysis. Arkansas topped the list with 17 declarations over the 10-year period, with Iowa, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Tennessee tying for second with 16 declarations each.

The findings point to the need for reforms in three major areas: federal flood insurance, disaster mitigation and infrastructure.

In November, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill overhauling the National Flood Insurance Program, but the Senate version “should include provisions to ensure investment in mitigation and enable officials in flood-prone areas to reduce risk before disasters strike,” the authors said.

“Research shows that federal mitigation grants save $6 for every $1 spent, yet current policies underinvest in pre-disaster planning,” they continued. “America needs policies that increase investments in hazard planning and mitigation to help states and municipalities prepare for and avoid the worst impacts of extreme weather events, and to stem the rising costs of flood disasters.”

President Donald Trump’s administration is planning to make a major infrastructure push in 2018, but the president in August signed an executive order revoking the establishment of a federal flood risk management standard.

“Flooding often damages essential facilities and services, such as roadways, electrical power plants, water treatment and storage facilities, and hospitals,” the authors said. “To help break the costly cycle of loss and repair in flood-prone areas, Congress and the Trump administration should pass policies that require consideration of current and future flood risks for federal investment in construction or reconstruction.”