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1997 Marks 25th Anniversary of "Year of the Floods"
Released: 2/27/1997

Contact Information:
U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey
Office of Communication
119 National Center
Reston, VA 20192
Rebecca Phipps 1-click interview
Phone: 703-648-4460

Since the devastating floods of 1972 that took nearly 500 lives, the human toll has declined in the United States, thanks in part to advances in science and technology as well as better partnerships among local, state and federal agencies working together to provide advance warnings to citizens.

"We should not let our guard down," said Robert Hirsch, Chief Hydrologist of the U.S. Geological Survey. "Floods continue to cost the Nation an average of $3 billion in damages and about 95 lives every year.

"Although the 1993 Midwest flood and the flooding this past year on the West Coast have been devastating, the tragic loss of life has been reduced. This can be directly attributed to early and accurate river forecasts made possible by technological advances in the USGS cooperative network of stream gages in every state," Hirsch said.

In the midst of a flood, USGS hydrologists work around the clock to collect the data that emergency managers rely on as the basis for evacuation orders and use in the development of early warning systems.

Three major floods that occurred in 1972 were:

Buffalo Creek, West Virginia , Feb. 26. This flood was caused by the collapse of a coal-waste dam that released 132 million gallons of water into Buffalo Creek valley. The flood completely destroyed the town of Saunders as well as all or part of 16 other small communities or mining camps, and resulted in 125 deaths. The Buffalo Creek area is in the southeast corner of West Virginia, about 40 miles from Charleston. The USGS prepared a detailed report on the causes and effects of the dam failure.

Hurricane Agnes, West Virginia - Pennsylvania - New York, June-July. Although Agnes was one of the weakest hurricanes in history, the rains that accompanied it caused the worst natural disaster in Pennsylvania’s history. Rainfall from Agnes ravaged twelve states, and set many records for high water. The Susquehanna River and tributaries along the New York-Pennsylvania border region produced the most severe flooding since 1784.

Rapid City, South Dakota, June 9. A stationary group of thunderstorms that formed over the Black Hills produced nearly 15 inches of rain in 6 hours near Nemo, S.D. More than 10 inches of rain fell in a 60-square-mile area. The resulting floods were the most severe ever recorded in South Dakota. At the end of the day, 237 people were dead, more than 3,000 injured, and total damage exceeded $160 million.

(Note to Editors: For more information on the nation’s water resources, call the USGS Outreach/Public Affairs Office at 703-648-4460, call EarthFax at 703-648-4888 or check the World Wide Web at http://www.usgs.gov.)

The USGS serves the nation by providing reliable scientific information to describe and understand the Earth; minimize loss of life and property from natural disasters; manage water, biological, energy, and mineral resources; and enhance and protect our quality of life.

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