Do you live in a town threatened by flooding? You should read this

If you live in a coastal city where flooding is an annual occurrence, or you’re thinking of moving to a city threatened by flooding, here’s a story on how to make the most of a natural disaster situation.

Cities like Mumbai, Sydney, New South Wales, New York, Tokyo, Shanghai are notorious flood-prone cities. But waterlogging in 16 feet of water is a situation unfamiliar to many. Should that happen, just as it happened in Illinois in 1993, the townspeople will have no idea what hit them. Families and lives will change as schools, hospitals, workplaces and apartment buildings stop working.

But then, what can you do? Because you can’t act fast when you’re stuck in a disaster, can you?

So here is the story of a model city to watch, just so you are mentally prepared.

Photo: Getty Images

THE STORY OF VALMEYER, ILLINOIS

Valmeyer, a town in Illinois, was submerged twice in one month in 1993 and experienced severe flooding from the Mississippi River. The village, which was 5 km away from the river, saw the water level rise to around 16 feet, damaging 90% of its buildings. They called it the Great Flood of 1993.

The first flood began in August 1993 and two weeks later the water began to recede. But when the residents returned, another wave of flooding occurred in September 1993, which definitely put the residents on a different course.

The impact was traumatic but led to something phenomenal that had never been seen before. The community knew that their homes obstructed the rising forces of the river and could not bear to relive the same experience.

Photo: Getty ImagesPhoto: Twitter

So 900 residents of this tight-knit farming community came together and formed a plan to leave town, together as a team. The idea was to sell the existing land to the government and use the proceeds to buy another piece of land, together as a community. So they left their floodplain homes for a bit of an uphill area.

This was an alternative of last resort, and is now called “managed retirement”.

But as more cities grapple with the dire impacts of flooding, this technique of last resort could be a model for planned redevelopment of interior land spaces.

WHY WAS THIS MODEL A SUCCESS?

Quick action, strong and persuasive leadership and public support for community decisions set it all in place.

Photo: Getty ImagesPhoto: Getty Images

HOW DO THEY MOVE?

The whole process was estimated to take 8 years, but was amazingly done over a period of 4 years.

First, the government has launched action as representatives of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the US government’s lead agency for disaster relief, to move buildings out of the way of recurring disasters . The government offered to buy back damaged properties and allow residents to use the proceeds to rebuild the town on higher ground.

Although it was shocking at first, the idea caught on when people realized that moving together was the only way to keep the community together; otherwise everyone would be dispersed.

Second, officials focused on a 500-acre (202-hectare) plot of cornfields and woods, and residents created numerous committees that would work with outside experts to draft blueprints for the new city. Over the next two months, Valmeyer Mayor Dennis Knobloch toured the towns to check if the plans were feasible and if anyone could support them financially.

The third, citizens used their personal savings to make down payments on land for their new homes. The mayor attempted to receive funds of $22 million to transplant Valmeyer and $23 million to buy out the residents’ homes (which were eventually purchased by the state and federal governments via a $90 pledge. %).

There were serious setbacks during the process, which increased the time needed to relocate residents.

Some archaeological sites were discovered during excavations and had to be sorted out, while some development plans had to be changed due to a group of sinkholes in the relocation site. Construction also halted for four months because some trees were breeding ground for an endangered species of bat.

Moreover, as the process took time, the community risked being dispersed. Thus, the mayor decided to keep community institutions (such as school, churches and civic groups) active despite the absence of permanent structures, to keep social networks alive.

However, some families still had to give up because they could not stay with their loved ones for so long.

Over time, the whole city was rebuilt.

At the end of the whole 4-year process (which was supposed to be an 8-year process), 700 of the 900 people moved to the new city. And also became an example of what was possible.

HOW ARE YOU NOW ?

The new Valmeyer is an orderly residential community, with tidy houses, apartments for the elderly, a post office, a school, a gas station, two banks, three churches and a restaurant. However, the ambience and character of the original town is missing and it is more of a suburb now, with more people staying in the new area. In addition, the government no longer authorizes the construction of buildings in the old district.

Now there was another impact of the change: business enterprises never expanded again as most moved to nearby communities after the flood. Also, since the government never covers the cost of moving businesses, it is something mandatory in the future.

About Walter J. Leslie

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