Louisiana public schools are among the most at risk in the nation for flooding, according to a new report.
Five of the top 10 and 24 of the top 100 counties in the U.S. when it comes to the risk of a school flooding are in the Pelican State, according to the report, which was released Tuesday by The Pew Charitable Trusts, a research and public policy nonprofit, and the consulting firm ICF.
“We undertake research that helps us to understand the vulnerability of communities,” explained Laura Lightbody, director of Pew’s Flood-Prepared Communities project and one of the study's authors.
If anything, the report understates Louisiana’s school flood risk. Pew failed to locate digital flood maps for seven of the state’s parishes and consequently left them out. Five are flood-prone coastal parishes: Lafourche, Orleans, Plaquemines, St. Bernard and Terrebonne. The other two are Jackson and Winn parishes, both in the north central part of the state.
If included, given their history, some of those parishes likely would have made the top 100 as well.
While many past reports have looked at communities with flood risks, few have zereod in on the risks faced by schools.
“We don’t think often about schools, but schools tend to be the heart of communities,” Lightbody said.
The most at-risk Louisiana county is Cameron Parish, according to Pew. It came in third in the country, earning it 2.3 points on Pew’s 3-point scale. It was barely edged out for dubious top honors by Monroe County, Florida, and Hyde County, North Carolina.
It earned points on each of the three measures that Pew used. All of Cameron’s four public schools are either in a 100-year or 500-year floodplain. Second, many of the children attending those schools live in the floodplain themselves. And finally, Cameron Parish has past federal disaster declarations, most notably after 2005's Hurricane Rita, which caused severe damage to the parish.
St. James, St. John, Vermillion and Livingston parishes also made the top 10 in the nation when it came to flood risk in public schools.
Vermillion Parish, which is next to Cameron, earned 1.96 points from Pew and came in ninth nationwide. Thirteen of its 21 public schools are located in a 100-year or 500-year floodplain. Kaplan Elementary in Kaplan flooded during the historic floods in August 2016.
Livingston Parish earned 1.86 points, making it 10th in the U.S. Half of Livingston’s 46 schools are located in a 100-year or 500-year floodplain. The parish was among the worst hit during the August 2016 floods, with water submerging 17 public schools. The latest estimate of total damage is nearly $120 million.
For many public school students across the Baton Rouge region, the first day of school next …
East Baton Rouge Parish came in at 55 on the list. Seven of its 104 schools are in a 100-year or 500-year floodplain. And similar to Livingston, East Baton Rouge Parish had 12 public schools that flooded a year ago.
Pew included a map where the most at-risk areas for flooding are shaded dark and south Louisiana was one of the darkest areas on the map.
But there are still risks in the northern part of the state.
“It’s not just coastal areas that are at risk of flooding,” noted Lightbody.
Five non-coastal Louisiana parishes made Pew’s top 100 list: Bossier, Caldwell, Franklin, Natchitoches and Ouachita. Ouachita Parish was rated the most at risk, of those, coming in at number 19.
By its own admission, Pew’s report is incomplete. Pew was unable to locate digital flood map data from FEMA for 12,536 schools, or about 13 percent of all public schools in the U.S. Lightbody noted there are areas of the country that have never been mapped for flood risk. The organization recommends regular updating of flood maps nationwide.
As part of its methodology, Pew looked not just at the potential for flooding at schools, but also in the zip codes in which they are situated. The greater the percentage of land in the zip code in a 100 or 500-year floodplain, the greater the risk was deemed for the school as well.
“Just because a school is located in a flood zone, that’s not the full indication of its risk,” Lightbody said. “That's why we looked at how flood-prone were the communities surrounding the school.”
Many of the schools locally that flooded in August 2016 were not in high-risk floodplains, but were near areas that were.
Pew makes several recommendations to schools at risk of flooding, including developing comprehensive pre-disaster plans, and, if disaster strikes, to rebuild smarter.
Since the August 2016 floods, no flooded schools have thus far relocated, all choosing to rebuild where they were.
Lightbody, however, urged schools at the most risk of flooding to seriously consider relocating and noted schools in other parts of the country that are doing just that.