May 26th, 2011

Floods in the United States

Posted at 10:23 AM ET

smallmapcatiHeavy rainfall has triggered severe floods across central and southern regions of the United States since April as the Mississippi River overflowed and flooded thousands of homes and businesses. High levels of precipitation, combined with springtime snowmelt, caused the Mississippi River and many of its tributaries to rise to record levels. Nine states have been affected by major flooding, with Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana particularly badly hit. President Barack has Obama declared the western counties of Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi federal disaster areas.

The damage and disruption caused by the floods has been both widespread and severe. According to officials, at least 20 people were killed, tens of thousands of homes were evacuated and the economic cost is expected to be in the billions of dollars. Officials said thousands of homes were damaged in total and several commercial properties were forced to shut down. Infrastructure was also badly affected, with bridges and roads swamped and water and power utilities damaged. According to officials, nearly 3.6 million acres of farmland in the Mississippi River valley was affected by flooding, including 40 percent of the US rice area. Reports suggest agricultural losses will run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Reports said several river levels surpassed those reached in the Great Mississippi Floods of 1927, 1937 and 1993. Officials said the flooding in Louisiana was the worst since 1927, forcing authorities to open the Morganza Spillway for the first time in nearly 40 years and deliberately flood 4,600 square miles of rural land to ease the pressure on the cities of Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Moreover, recent storms and heavy rain has prompted the National Weather Service River Forecast Center to warn of secondary cresting along the Mississippi River, from Missouri to Tennessee. The information below gives an up-to-date overview of the situation across the worst-affected states.


Hazard data illustrated in the CAT-i map was taken from i-aXs®, Guy Carpenter’s web-based risk management platform. i-aXs users can view impacted areas on any map as well as see how their portfolios were affected. Please contact your broker or GC Analytics(SM) representative for assistance or go to for further information.

The Army Corps of Engineers blasted a two-mile hole at the Birds Point levee in southeast Missouri on May 3, 2011 to save the town of Cairo, Illinois, and the rest of the levee system, from record-breaking floodwaters. Reports said the breach flooded 600,000 acres of Missouri farmland in 10 southeastern counties. Around 100 homes were reportedly destroyed of damage and damaged. The floodwaters also displaced around 200 residents in Missouri’s Mississippi and New Madrid counties.

At least four counties (Dyer, Lake, Shelby, and Stewart) were declared disaster areas in Kentucky because of the flooding. Reports indicate parts of the state experienced its worse flooding since 1937. Widespread flooding was reported in Kentucky, with several homes and businesses inundated.

Parts of Tennessee were badly hit by the floods. According to reports, thousands of residential and commercial properties were flooded, with the city of Memphis particularly badly hit. The river level crested at 47.85 feet in Memphis, just below the record of 48.7 feet set in 1937. According to reports, around 2,500 homes and businesses were flooded in Memphis. Thousands of people were forced to evacuate their homes and large swathes of farmland were flooded. The city of Dyersburg, in northwestern Tennessee, was also badly affected after more than 600 homes and businesses were inundated as the Forked Deer River, a tributary of the Mississippi, burst its banks. Several other local rivers overflowed, including Big Creek, the Loosahatchie River and the Wolf River, flooding several communities.

Eight people have been reportedly killed by the flooding in Arkansas. Arkansas City was badly flooded after the Mississippi River crested at 53.1 feet. According to reports, 1 million acres of farmland in Arkansas has been inundated, including 300,000 acres of rice and 120,000 acres of wheat. On May 25, 2011, the Army Corps of Engineers warned residents in Baxter County of further flooding as they plan to release more water from the Bull Shoals Dam.

Mississippi was among the worst hit states, prompting Governor Haley Barbour to declare thirteen counties along the Mississippi River federal disaster areas (Adams, Bolivar, Claiborne, Coahoma, Desoto, Issaquena, Jefferson, Sharkey, Tunica, Warren, Washington, Wilkinson, and Yazoo). The Mississippi River crested at more than 14 feet above flood stage in the city of Vicksburg, inundating thousands of acres of farmland and displacing around 2,000 people. Several casinos located on stationary river barges were forced to close.

Widespread damage and disruption has been reported in Louisiana after the state experienced its worst flooding since 1927. The Army Corps of Engineers were forced to open the Morganza Spillway for the first time since 1973 to avoid severe flooding in New Orleans and the state capital of Baton Rouge. The Corps said as much as 1.2 million gallons per second has been pouring through the spillway since it was opened on May 14, 2011. Authorities started to close portions of the spillway on 25 May, shutting three of the 17 open bays. Authorities estimated around 25,000 people and 11,000 buildings were likely to be adversely affected by the opening of the spillway. Thousands of people were displaced in Louisiana, with about 2,000 ordered to evacuate from the town of St Landry Parish alone. Agriculture officials estimate that more than 282,000 acres of cropland in the state has been flooded, causing USD210 million dollars in losses.

Sources: Reuters News, Associated Press, BBC News, CNN, Agence France Presse

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Guy Carpenter publishes CAT-i reports for major natural catastrophes worldwide. These reports cover catastrophes including worldwide tropical cyclones, earthquakes, major UK and European floods and any other natural event that is likely to incur a significant loss to the (re)insurance industry. Please email if you wish to be added to the free email distribution list.

Guy Carpenter compiles RISK-i reports for major technological or man-made events worldwide. These reports cover risks to property, transport and life including explosions, fires, crashes, engineering disasters and terrorist attacks that are likely to incur a significant loss to the (re)insurance industry. Please email if you wish to be added to the free email distribution list

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