Flooded cars

Flood waters rise above cars following an unprecedented rain storm in Augusto 2016.

A new online map is giving the public the most comprehensive look to date into the devastation of the historic August flood, the worst storm to ever strike the Baton Rouge region and one of the costliest natural disasters on record.

The interactive map, unveiled this week, was created by the Amite River Basin Commission after years of work. It gives viewers a street-by-street glimpse into how high waters rose after an unprecedented rainstorm dumped multiple feet of water across the Baton Rouge area, most heavily in Livingston Parish.

Users can visit the commission’s website, click on the map’s link, and from there click on any point in the map to see the estimated flood level of that point. Users can also type in an address to see how high flood waters rose in a particular place.

There are also nearly 30 different types of maps that users can view.

Dietmar Rietschier, executive director of the commission, said the map will serve as an “educational tool” for the public to better understand the potential risks in their area.

“This helps the public understand better, and it also helps our decision makers,” Rietschier said. “People need to know what the potential is.”

The August 2016 flood — which has been dubbed “The Great Flood of 2016” — resulted from an unprecedented 48-hour rain storm that led to record-breaking crests on the Comite River, Amite River, and Bayou Manchac, according to the commission’s report.

The flood impacted over 93,000 housing units — or 30 percent — in East Baton Rouge, Ascension, Livingston, East Feliciana, and Iberville parishes. Livingston Parish suffered the most destruction, with the report finding that 73 percent of its household units — roughly 38,300 — flooded.

At the time, the August 2016 flood was the fourth-most expensive flood disaster in U.S. history. It is currently the fifth-most expensive, with total economic losses in the Amite River Basin likely approaching $2 billion, according to the report.

The “vast majority” of property damage from the flood was uninsured, the report found.

Rietschier said the commission hired surveyors in the first days after the flood to pinpoint the high water areas across the basin, which covers 2,200 square miles and includes seven Louisiana parishes and four southwestern Mississippi counties. Other water marks were made by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, the Department of Transportation and Development, and the U.S. Geological Survey.

All told, Rietschier said the online map was crafted utilizing around 500 water mark points taken across the basin, which goes as far north as the Louisiana-Mississippi line and as far south as La. Hwy 3125.

“We have this [data] for the whole basin, not just one parish,” Rietschier said.

With all of the data, the next question became what to do with it, Rietschier said. 

“People started suggesting we make a map that will show the water surface level based on all those water marks that we have,” he said. “At this time, computer power and storage capacity was increasing rapidly. So we said, ‘Let’s try it.’ It took us a good three a half years from the start to finish the map.”

The map was finished about a month ago, and to Rietschier, it offers “the most accurate look yet of the flood.”

The Amite River Basin Flood Inundation Map Viewer allows users to explore estimated ground elevations, hydraulic features, high-definition estimated peak inundation depths, and water surface elevations from historical flood events throughout the Amite River Basin.

The purpose of this kind of map, according to the commission, is to obtain reliable documentation of a historic flood, accurate flood inundation estimates throughout the basin, support flood hazard communication, and support regional floodplain management.

Rietschier creating new technology for making the map possible, adding that it is the “first of its kind.”

“From what I have heard, this is apparently the first-ever [map of its kind],” Rietschier said. “Something like this has never been done before.”

Rietschier said the commission hopes to conduct similar studies and maps for future flood events to be able to compare them to other floods to learn more about the basin. This will give the public greater insight into the potential risks they’d need to consider when buying a home or starting a business, he said.

“We are not going to stop the flooding, and hopefully we never again see what happened in 2016,” he said. “But every time there’s a major flood, we should be prepared to send out surveyors as soon as possible to measure all the high water marks and do the same thing for that event.

“Hopefully, we can continue to get more information and come up with better solutions to these types of events.”

People are urged to visit the commission's website, check flood elevations at their homes and neighborhoods, and provide feedback to the commission in case corrections are needed. People can also provide photos and documentation.

To view the map, click here.

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