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Part 1: Disasters of Our Own Making

(A badly damaged home in Sea Isle City, NJ after Hurricane Sandy.  Credit: David Madden)

(A badly damaged home in Sea Isle City, NJ after Hurricane Sandy. Credit: David Madden)

John McDevitt John McDevitt
John McDevitt has been a reporter and editor at KYW Newsradio 1060...
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Regional Affairs Council -- Dec. 2012

KYW Regional Affairs Council

“Stormproofing the
Delaware Valley”

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By John McDevitt

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Certain areas in our region are obviously more susceptible to flooding than others.  Even today, studies and practices continue to better understand and manage the problem.

(Credit: Mike Dunn)

(Credit: Mike Dunn)

In late October, as Hurricane Sandy bore down on the Delaware Valley, Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter (right) urged residents of neighborhoods that routinely flood during major rainstorms — such as Eastwick, Cobbs Creek, Manayunk, and near the Pennypack Creek — to evacuate.

According to officials, approximately 10,000 Philadelphia residents are living in flood zones.  And that number is only within the city limits.

“We’ve done a lot of serious damage to our systems,” notes Jeff Featherstone, a city planning professor at Temple University’s Ambler campus.

He says mistakes were made more than 50 years ago by developers of cities and towns in the region.

(Dr. Jeff Featherstone of Temple University.  Credit: John McDevitt)

(Dr. Jeff Featherstone of Temple University. Credit: John McDevitt)

“We didn’t pay any attention to our creeks,” Featherstone (right) says.  “We thought they were nuisances and we bulldozed them. And now we are paying the price for that.  Many of the dense areas of Philadelphia, as well as places like Ambler, are experiencing flooding problems because the streams have been paved over.  And now when it rains, the storm sewer systems back up and the communities flood.”

Dr. Feathrstone conducts studies in storm water and flooding control and works closely with municipalities.

“Without these studies it’s difficult to come up with solutions,” he tells KYW Newsradio, “and unfortunately they haven’t been funded in the past.  And we are stuck instead with using our funding and our monies to pay flood victims — which of course needs to be done — but we also need to look at the preventive side and fund that as well.”

In some cases, Featherstone points out, if a structure is in a flood plain — such as along the Neshaminy Creek or the Delaware River — it can be elevated to meet FEMA requirements.

(Richard Roberts of Pennoni Associates.  Photo provided)

(Richard Roberts of Pennoni Associates. Photo provided)

“In one case, one of the homes was raised 19 feet,” says Richard Roberts (right), vice president and chief engineer of structures for Pennoni Associates Inc., an engineering and design firm in the University City section of West Philadelphia.  “Our engineers have worked on determining what elevation the homes actually need to be lifted up and raised to, then our structural engineers have worked on those designs to get them up out of the water.”

In addition, there are strict storm water management regulations in place for new commercial construction in most areas of the region, in which the first inch of runoff needs to be captured rather than sent to the sewer system, to help alleviate the potential for flooding.

Listen to Part 1…

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