A new report issued by the First Street Foundation says that West Virginia’s infrastructure is at high risk from damage by a 100-year flood, one that has a 1% chance of occurring each year. Climate change is warming the air allowing it to hold more moisture, which causes more frequent and powerful rainstorms. West Virginia’s infrastructure is uniquely vulnerable to a 100-year flood: 61% power stations would be at risk of shutdown, 46% of roads would be at risk of being inoperable, as would 57% of fire stations, 50% of police stations and 38% of schools.
The geography of the state results in many structures, roads and critical infrastructure being built along rivers and creeks, which have more frequently overflowed as the climate has warmed. In addition, surface mining for coal has removed surface vegetation that once served as a rain water buffer and pushed rocks and large debris into stream beds making them less able to contain large volumes of water.
West Virginia’s Flood Protection Plan has not been updated since 2004. Even then floods were a major concern. According to the Plan
Floods have been documented in West Virginia since the earliest settlements in the 1800’s. More recently, between 1996 and 2004 there have been 16 Federal disaster declarations in the State involving flooding. All 55 counties have been included in at least one of those floods. The total FEMA cost during that time span is more than $500 million.
Floods also result in a loss of life. Between 1960 and 1996, there were 252 deaths from floods or flash floods in West Virginia – more than any other state except Texas with 619 and California with 258. National statistics indicate that as many as 59% of flooding victims drown in their vehicles.
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