It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature

This photo shows the flood of July 10, 1909 at the corner of Fourth and

Pearl St. in Sioux City.

FILLERS

BY JOHN CULLEN

The nation’s attention has been turned southward the past two weeks, first to Texas where Hurricane Harvey caused record damage, and now to Florida where Hurricane Irma promises to do likewise.

Damages will be in the hundreds of billions of dollars and our federal government will join local agencies and charities in helping these folks recover. Texas’ two senators, particularly Sen. Ted Cruz, have been in the forefront of seeking federal aid.

That’s ironic. When Hurricane Sandy hit the northeast in 2012, these two Texas senators and 20 more members of the Texas congressional delegation opposed federal help for New York and New Jersey. So did our own congressman, Steve King, who also opposed aid to Louisiana and Mississippi when those poor folks were ravaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Just a couple of years ago there was a movement by some right-wing Texans who hate the federal government to secede from the union. We doubt we’ll hear from them for a while as they stand now with their hands outstretched.

The situation in Texas is particularly dire because about 80% of the homeowners in the storm areas did not have flood insurance. A lot of people assume their homeowners insurance covers flood; most policies cover flooding only from backed-up sewers. If you want to cover flooding from Mother Nature you need to buy that for $200-$300 more per year. In flood-prone areas it’s generally a requirement by lenders. In certain areas you can’t even build on a flood plain.

Storm Lake is safe from flooding because our lake has an outlet for overflow. Most of the city of Storm Lake is on high ground. It’s doubtful that even the heaviest rains would raise the lake level enough to flood any areas except perhaps Lakeside, and even that’s doubtful. If we get flooded out, it’s time to build an ark.

To be endangered by floods you need a river and that’s why we regularly see flooding in Sioux Rapids, Cherokee and Spencer. Fortunately, people in those areas are smart enough not to build close to the river so damage is usually minimal. There used to be homes and rivers down by the Little Sioux River on the east side of Cherokee, but that area has been cleared of development. Plus, there’s enough open ground where rain can soak in without running wild.

That’s the problem with populated areas like Houston. So much has been built up and paved over that there’s no place for the rain water to soak in. Storm sewers — if they even have them — can’t handle deluges so the water pools in streets and floods. There is a point at which we can’t engineer our way out of a predicament.

That was one of the problems with Katrina’s devastating flooding of New Orleans. Areas of coastal reefs and marshes along the Gulf of Mexico that Mother Nature created to soften the force of the storm — accompanied by runoff from Midwest farmland — were turned into a “dead zone” that thwarted Mother Nature’s designs — for a while. It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature. When Katrina arrived all that commercial development exacerbated the flooding and the next thing we knew that great city was underwater and 1,833 lives were lost.

Sioux City, through which the Big Sioux, Floyd and Missouri rivers pass, had been the victim of terrible floods for decades. After it suffered its worst loss in 1953, when hundreds of residents were forced to flee the city, flood control projects along the Floyd River restrained the flow of wild water. Until 2011. That’s when the Missouri River flooded from its headwaters in Montana all the way through Kansas and Missouri. High dollar homes in Dakota Dunes were destroyed.

The worst Iowa flooding in recent years was the Great Flood of 1993, when water from the Raccoon and Des Moines rivers submerged Des Moines, including its central business district, and caused 17 deaths and billions of dollars of damage. The Des Moines Register had to vacate its Locust Street building and the newspaper was printed elsewhere for some time. Other areas of the state, mostly eastern Iowa, were also affected. Cedar Rapids and Iowa City were particularly hard hit. President Clinton visited the state and consoled the victims.

Scientists warn us that climate change is only going to make these natural disasters worse. We can ignore them at our own peril.

While floods in the Midwest aren’t a problem this year, we can’t be too smug. We have to deal with tornadoes every spring and summer and I speak from personal experience from the Algona tornado of 1979 that they can be every bit as deadly as any weather disaster.