FEMA Provides Flood Recovery, Rebuilding Guidance for La.

April 13, 2006

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced it has released flood recovery guidance documents for Jefferson, Orleans and St. Bernard parishes as well as portions of Plaquemines and St. Charles parishes in southern Louisiana.

These Advisory Base Flood Elevations provide communities the critical engineering data they can use to make their communities safer and stronger during the post-Hurricanes Katrina and Rita rebuilding process.

The guidance documents released show two main areas, interior levee and open coast. Within the interior levee areas of these parishes, FEMA’s recommendations reflect substantial progress made on the levees by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) as well as the Administration’s commitment to raise the levees so that they can be certified.

With eventual certification in mind, FEMA recommends substantially damaged homes and businesses protected by levees elevate three feet, or follow what is shown on the current effective flood insurance rate map, whichever is higher. For those with substantially damaged dwellings outside levee-protected areas in these parishes, FEMA recommends what is shown on the current effective flood insurance rate map, plus one to three additional feet in elevation, depending on parish location.

“FEMA strongly recommends communities build higher and stronger to reduce vulnerability from flooding during future hurricanes,” said David Maurstad, FEMA’s Mitigation Division Director and Administrator of the National Flood Insurance Program. “FEMA provides this kind of advisory information to local governments, but ultimately it is state and local officials, working with their citizens, who make final decisions on land use and other building code requirements.”

In response to requests for updated rebuilding guidance from state and local officials in both Mississippi and Louisiana following hurricanes Katrina and Rita, FEMA agreed to take the unprecedented step of immediately assessing existing flood risk data and issuing updated and more accurate advisory guidance to help speed the recovery. The flood recovery guidance documents provide Advisory Base Flood Elevations which are an interim product to assist communities in their rebuilding efforts while new (‘preliminary’) Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) are being completed and provided to the communities for comment by the end of this year.

The new flood recovery guidance takes into account newer storm data from the past 35 years including recent major hurricanes Katrina and Rita, as well as coastal land loss, degradation of coastal barriers and subsidence, or sinking land. The guidance shows areas that have a one-percent annual chance flood risk, and updates levels at which water could rise, given that one-percent-chance event. The one-percent-annual-chance flood elevation represents a flood that has a one-percent chance of being equaled or exceeded in any given year. The one-percent-annual-chance flood is used as the standard for setting premium rates and requirements for the National Flood Insurance Program.

The flood recovery guidance documents released address open coast and interior levee ponding elevations. Guidance for these three parishes and areas of St. Charles and the Belle Chasse area of Plaquemines Parish were not released until today because of the vast complexities involved in areas protected by levee systems. Additional work and coordination needed to take place between FEMA and USACE prior to releasing today’s guidance.

St. Charles Parish, which received advisory guidance from FEMA for areas outside the levee last fall, now has interior levee information as well. The guidance issued today for Plaquemines Parish includes the levee-protected area of Belle Chasse and all areas outside of levee protection in the parish. However, additional time will be needed to study the levee protected areas of lower Plaquemines Parish to make further determinations about the protection systems and thus rebuilding elevation guidance. The Bush Administration will look to the results of further analysis, including the final Interagency Performance Evaluation Task Force (IPET) report, expected out in June 2006, and other similar studies.

The flood recovery guidance was created to provide communities with more accurate and up-to-date flood hazard data. The guidance serves to assist state and local officials and those rebuilding in making decisions on how to reconstruct to help minimize vulnerability to future flood events. The release of this guidance is for advisory purposes, and will not increase flood insurance premiums or flood insurance requirements of the National Flood Insurance Program.

Similar guidance for areas impacted by hurricanes Katrina and Rita has already been issued for Calcasieu, Cameron, Iberia, Lafourche, St. John the Baptist, St. Mary, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa, Terrebonne, Vermillion and portions of St. Charles parishes in southern Louisiana; and Hancock, Harrison and Jackson counties in Mississippi.

Additional information and the flood recovery guidance documents can be found at www.fema.gov.

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