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Nov 18, 2005

FEMA Releases New Flood Maps For Miss. Gulf Coast

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) released, Advisory Base Flood Elevation (ABFE) maps for three coastal counties in Mississippi today. The maps are available online here.

The newly mapped counties are Hancock, Harrison and Jackson counties. While the maps are not, "official" yet, FEMA is strongly urging that the new maps be used by local communities in rebuilding efforts following Hurricane Katrina. "Our goal is to help state and local officials make the most informed decisions as they embark on the reconstruction of their communities," said Vice Admiral Thad Allen, principal federal official and for the Hurricane Katrina effort.

The new maps place the elevation of the 100-year flood plain from 3 to 8 feet above the existing flood maps. These updated (ABFE) maps are the first of the area since the mid-1980's and include tide and storm data collected from Katrina and other events over the last century. However, the new 100-year flood elevations are not above the height of Katrina's storm surge. While a property owner that rebuilds using the flood data provided today would greatly minimize his damage from future floods, his property would still be inundated if another hurricane with a storm surge the size and intensity of Katrina's hit. But in truth, requiring that all structures along the gulf coast be built to survive another Katrina would render huge areas of the coast unbuildable.

This marks the first time FEMA has released flood maps on the internet, a step they took in order to disseminate the information as quickly as possible. Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour was quoted as saying, "These new advisories are a necessary and positive step toward making our communities whole again, and I am pleased they are being made available in electronic format for everyone - from local officials to the public - to review."

Over the next 18 months FEMA and the State of Mississippi will continue detailed engineering studies before finalizing the maps. At that time, local communities will officially adopt them and must require new construction be in compliance with them. However, FEMA is urging local governments not to wait until then and to go ahead and require that all rebuilding efforts use the new ABFE flood maps.