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Why Have Flood Ins. in Low-Risk Zones? Hurricane Agnes

FEMA says it’s been 50 years since the storm changed U.S. flood policies after crossing the Panhandle and causing massive inland flooding – 8 states, 128 deaths.

PHILADELPHIA – Half a century ago, in late June 1972, one of the U.S.’s most devasting and historic hurricanes formed in the Gulf of Mexico. Hurricane Agnes made landfall as a Category 1 storm in the Florida Panhandle and caused significant and widespread damage throughout the Mid-Atlantic region.

Rainfall from Agnes caused catastrophic inland flooding on a scale that had not been seen in decades: 128 people lost their lives across eight states, including 50 in Pennsylvania, 21 in Maryland, 14 in Virginia and one in Delaware. More than 362,000 people were forced to evacuate their homes due to flooding, including 222,000 in Pennsylvania alone.

Agnes formed as a tropical depression off the Yucatan Peninsula on June 14 and officially reached hurricane status by June 18 when it targeted the Florida Panhandle west of Apalachicola as a Category 1 storm. The outer rain bands spawned 19 confirmed tornadoes confined mainly south of Daytona Beach, though 20 years later, analysts say up to 28 tornadoes and 7 severe thunderstorms likely occurred. It’s blamed for the death of seven Floridians.

In Georgia, Agnes was downgraded but eventually stalled in Pennsylvania when it encountered other weather conditions.

“From the expansion of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) to the focus on mitigation as the cornerstone of community resiliency, to the initial discussion on a need for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), many sweeping changes came in response to those lessons learned from Hurricane Agnes,” says FEMA Region 3 Regional Administrator MaryAnn Tierney.

A comprehensive overview of Hurricane Agnes and the aftermath – 50th Anniversary of Hurricane Agnes: Learn from the Past and Prepare for the Future – is available online.

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