As the world becomes warmer, we will experience more frequent and intense weather events. According to NASA, 19 of the 20 hottest years have been recorded since 2001, and scientists estimate the global atmospheric temperature will rise two degrees Celsius by the year 2100. Warmer temperatures cause land ice to melt, which leads the ocean water to warm and expand and accelerates sea level rise. Since the sea level is rising, storm surge worsens since the water begins at a higher level.
In Savannah, for example, the sea level has risen 10 inches since 1935. In 1950, the Georgia coast used to flood about every one to three years, but in 2019, the Savannah area flooded 42 times using that same flood threshold. Coastal Georgia is expected to experience 31% higher sea levels than the national average in 2100, leading to consistent nuisance flooding and damaging homes and businesses. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) estimates that just one inch of water can cause $25,000 of property damage. While flooding is an obvious concern for coastal communities, flooding will become more common in all areas Georgia as the duration and intensity of rainfall increases.
Beyond property damage, there are other potential environmental and public health hazards after the water recedes. The water and land can be contaminated with dangerous materials such as sharp debris, pesticides, fuel, and untreated sewage. If you reside near an industrial site, you may have an increased risk of exposure to hazardous chemical and waste spills. Toxic mold can spread quickly through water damaged property, and there are crucial steps before and after a storm to protect yourself and your neighbors.
This section will discuss how to build resilience, or the ability of a community to recover after hazardous events such as hurricanes and flooding rather than just reacting to impacts. The concept of climate change can be overwhelming, but you are not alone in preparing for and recovering from severe weather events.
KNOW YOUR FLOOD RISK
As climate change leads to increased rainfall, it is not only coastal areas that are at risk of flooding. Sustained rain can cause waterways to overflow or overwhelm inland drainage systems. Climate change, and specifically flood damage, disproportionately impacts people of color and low-income residents. This is in part due to the fact more affordable housing and historically redlined areas are in higher risk flood zones and near industrial sites, but also because landlords are only required to disclose previous flooding or flood risk to tenants only if the property has flooded three times or more in the previous five years. Before you rent or buy a house, you can check the flood risk of the property at FEMA’s Flood Map Service Center.
The American Red Cross outlines what to do before, during and after a flood on its website. It is important that you know your hurricane and flood risk, make an emergency plan, know your evacuation zone, and take safety measures when cleaning your home after a flood. You can download FEMA phone application for weather alerts and specific hazards that impact your area. You can find more information about emergency preparedness in Georgia at Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security’s website.
Review your important documents, make sure to have electronic copies, and strengthen your home by clearing gutters and potentially installing hurricane shutters. Standard homeowners’ insurance does not cover flood damage, and although insurance does not prevent damage, it can significantly help as you rebuild and recover. You can learn more about at insurance at FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program.
CLEAN & RETROFIT YOUR HOME
If your house has flooded, it is important to review proper clean-up procedures and begin drying out the flooded area within 48 hours before mold grows in the home. Make sure to take photos of all the damage for insurance purposes.
If no amount of retrofitting prevents repetitive flooding, or retrofitting is financially infeasible, it may be necessary to move. The FEMA buyout program purchases properties in high risk flood zones, enabling successful applicants to relocate. Contact your local floodplain or housing manager to begin the application. If there is major flood event in your county, there may be opportunities to participate in a local buyout program. After a devastating flood in 2009, for example, Cobb County purchased 75 homes in flood hazard areas. Learn more about buyout programs at FEMA’s website or at your county’s floodplain and wastewater webpages.
If you are concerned about your environment or health as a result of a hurricane or flooding event, there are several organizations that can guide you through various processes. For concerns regarding coastal hazardous waste spills or other pollutant discharges, contact One Hundred Miles or your local environmental organization for inland concerns (see Appendix B: Contact Information). Learn more about statutes that cover chemical releases and relevant contacts in Solid Waste Management and Landfill Permitting and Hazardous Waste, Toxic Substances, and Contamination Land Cleanup.