Miss. Delta Officials Decry FEMA Flood Warning as ‘Alarming’

May 29, 2007

Officials in the Delta have accused the government of trying to scare local residents into buying flood insurance by suggesting the Mississippi River levees could be breached as were those around New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency said its statement included with updated flood zone maps made available to Delta residents is only that, a suggestion so people can make up their own minds about how protect their land and themselves.

“Levees are not foolproof, just like dams are not foolproof,” Mary Hudak, a FEMA spokeswoman, said.

Kelly Greenwood, chief executive officer of the
Yazoo-Mississippi Delta Levee Board, said the wording “is so
alarming that it will likely prompt mortgage lenders to begin
requiring flood insurance for homes and businesses in communities
protected by the levee.”

FEMA’s Web site says annual flood insurance premiums range from $112 to $317 for a home and its contents.

For almost 80 years, Delta residents have been protected by a $12 billion system that includes levees more than 30 feet tall. The last breach occurred in 1927 in Bolivar County.

“I’ve always felt we’ve got some of the best levees in the entire country,” said Ron Hudson, executive director of the Coahoma County Chamber of Commerce. “Recruiting business and industry is difficult enough without somebody bringing a scare tactic into play.”

FEMA is attaching the same warning on maps for other communities throughout the United States that are protected from the so-called 100-year flood by levees or other structures, Hudak said.

Hudak said FEMA’s warning was “not necessarily implemented because of Katrina.”

“But all of our awareness has been increased post-Katrina because we want people to understand that if levees aren’t able to provide flood control, they should have a plan,” she said.

U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss. and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said FEMA should be commended for urging people to buy flood insurance.

“However, FEMA should not instill fear and exploit the memory of the failed New Orleans levees to market insurance,” said Thompson, whose congressional district includes the Delta.

Levees guarding the lower Mississippi River offer more than 500 years of protection and a 0.02 percent annual risk of failure, levee board officials said.

The structures are designed for “the worst-case scenario,” said Peter Nimrod, chief engineer of the Mississippi Levee Board.

“We’re constantly maintaining the levee to keep it intact, filling in erosion, so we’re prepared for high water,” he said.


Information from: The Clarion-Ledger,

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