Hit by second major flood in 2 years, historic Maryland town weighs rebuild
- Ellicott City, Maryland, a historic mill town along the Patapsco River, was devastated by a flash flood Sunday for the second time in two years, leaving business owners questioning whether another rebuild is worth the investment, USA Today and others reported.
- The Baltimore suburb was in the midst of recovery from the so-called "thousand-year" flood of July 2016, which caused about $22 million in damage to more than 50 businesses. Howard County officials said the damage was more severe this time around, after the river rose to a record high of 24.1 feet and swept through the city center.
- The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) awarded Ellicott City more than $1 million only a few weeks ago in response to the 2016 disaster. The funds are intended to reduce flooding near Main Street and minimize risk of property damage.
2017 was the country's most expensive year for natural disasters, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The collective $300 billion in damage caused by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria and the California firestorm, among other events, have left state and local governments evaluating their zoning regulations and infrastructure to prevent this level of devastation in the future.
Flooding has occurred in Houston, as in Ellicott City, at a frequency that exceeds the odds, indicating the danger of thinking of natural disasters as distant or unlikely possibilities. Hurricane Harvey in September marked the third flood in three years to reach the city's "100-year" floodplains. Much of the estimated $150 billion to $180 billion in damage has been attributed to aging infrastructure, including storm drains, and the absence of a zoning code to prevent building in vulnerable areas.
Inadequate stormwater infrastructure was also a significant factor in the 2016 Ellicott City flood, according to the Maryland Building Industry Association. The group called for redevelopment of historic properties that were built before stormwater regulations were even in place, as well as larger underground pipes and holding ponds. But business owners who have just reopened after the last flood have learned the hard way that disaster recovery is often a long, drawn-out process that does not leave much room for prevention of the next disaster.
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