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Katrina: An Unnatural Disaster - Home
Project: In the Danger Zone

FEMA flood maps are supposed to identify areas likely to be flooded by a major storm surge. They aid homeowners and banks in deciding whether to insure property for flooding, and they help local governments in establishing building requirements. Expanding on his pre-Katrina reporting on hurricane preparation and the effectiveness of local building codes against hurricane winds, Steve Myers explored how outdated flood maps contribute to destruction from hurricanes such as Katrina.

Myers spent approximately six months compiling and mapping data of hurricane flooding that occurred in Alabama over the past 36 years, and compared his findings to existing flood maps. His research showed that parts of the Alabama coast had seen two or three "100-year" flood events, which are supposed to have a 1 percent chance of occurring in any year, or an average of once every 100 years. Experts said that data indicated that Alabama maps underestimated flood risk — much like those in Louisiana and Mississippi. During the course of Myers's reporting, FEMA announced plans to remap Alabama and the western panhandle of Florida.

The Mobile Press-Register published a three-day series of articles in June. The print series was supplemented by a website that Myers created in collaboration with Press-Register staff. The site was updated each day during the series, and includes several unique features such as an audio-enhanced slideshow, an interactive graphic showing some of the trouble spots, resources for residents, and a Google Earth file overlaid with flooding data for eight storms.

Following the completion of this series, Myers focused his reporting on public housing located in flood-prone areas on the Gulf Coast.


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