Workman to save valuable equipment from the path of the rampaging Feather River at Oroville in December 1964 after heavy rains led to widespread flooding. The U.S. government declared federal disasters in 31 counties. There have been 250 federal disaster declarations in the state since 1950, the second-most of any state. Bee File
Workman to save valuable equipment from the path of the rampaging Feather River at Oroville in December 1964 after heavy rains led to widespread flooding. The U.S. government declared federal disasters in 31 counties. There have been 250 federal disaster declarations in the state since 1950, the second-most of any state. Bee File

Data Tracker

Fires, floods, earthquakes add up to plenty of California disaster declarations

By Jim Miller

jmiller@sacbee.com

February 17, 2017 12:01 AM

This year’s heavy rains and the ongoing crisis at Oroville Dam recently prompted Gov. Jerry Brown to do what he and his predecessors have done many times before: ask for federal help.

Once approved, presidential declarations – the most common is a major disaster – open the door to assistance from a range of federal programs, such as money to fix roads or help with living expenses for people thrown out of work.

California knows the programs well.

The state has had 250 federal declarations since 1953, according to Federal Emergency Management Agency data. Fires, floods and earthquakes top the list of disasters that have afflicted California, which has also confronted drought, tsunamis and a hurricane. Only Texas, with 254 federal declarations of 10 varieties, has had more. Oklahoma (167), Washington (132) and Florida (122) fill out the top five.

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Reasons for disaster declarations since 1953: fire (983), severe storm (889), floods (767), hurricanes (313), and snow (160).

The rate of disaster declarations has grown significantly over the years. California, which averaged well under two federal declarations a year from 1953 through 1999, has had 182 since 2000, the most of any state.

Almost all of them – 168 – involved fires, including the deadly wildfires in Southern California in 2003 and 2007, the Angora Fire in 2007 near South Lake Tahoe, and the Rim Fire near Yosemite in 2013, the third-largest wildfire in California history.

Underlining the state’s latest requests is the occasionally heated political rhetoric between Donald Trump’s White House and Democratic leaders in California, which Trump lost by almost 4.3 million votes. Some Trump supporters suggested on social media this week that Washington ignore California’s request (it’s well beside the point, but Trump carried Oroville with 54.8 percent of the vote).

Trump didn’t brush off California. He declared a major disaster for last month’s heavy rains and an emergency declaration to help efforts at Oroville Dam.

$118.7 billion Total FEMA grants since 2005 for fire, preparedness, mitigation, individual assistance, and public assistance in the 50 states and Washington, D.C.

Since 2005, California has received $6.3 billion in FEMA grants for fire, preparedness, mitigation, individual assistance, and public assistance, according to agency records. Only three states have received more – Louisiana New York and Texas.

Presidents issue four types of declarations – major disaster, emergency, fire management and fire suppression.

Louisiana has received $26 billion in FEMA grants from 22 disaster declarations involving hurricanes (Katrina, Ike, Rita, Gustav and Isaac), floods, severe storms and one coastal storm. Hurricane Katrina resulted in more than $13.4 billion in public assistance grants and another $5.3 billion in individual assistance, according to FEMA records.

New York has received nearly $23 billion, including almost $14 billion as a result of Superstorm Sandy, which hammered the Eastern Seaboard in October 2012 and triggered a storm surge that flooded subway tunnels and caused billions of dollars in damage.

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Data Tracker is a regular feature that breaks down the numbers behind today’s news. Explore more trends at sacbee.com/datatracker.

Notable California disasters

1964: A massive earthquake on March 27 in Alaska sent a deadly tsunami into Crescent City, prompting a statewide disaster declaration. In December, heavy rains caused widespread flooding, leading to disaster declarations in 31 counties.

1977: A withering drought led to disaster declarations in 47 counties to begin the year. The declaration didn’t end until December 1978.

1989: The Oct. 17 Loma Prieta Earthquake prompted disaster declarations in a dozen Northern California counties. The quake killed 63 people.

1994: The 6.7 magnitude Northridge Earthquake on Jan. 17 killed 57. It prompted disaster declarations in Los Angeles, Ventura and Orange counties.

2003: Five counties – San Diego, San Bernardino, Los Angeles, Ventura, and Riverside – had a total of 10 disaster declarations connected to the deadly wildfires that swept the region, destroying thousands of homes. In December, the San Simeon earthquake that killed two people and collapsed buildings prompted disaster declarations in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties.

2005: California's one-and-only hurricane-related disaster declaration came in 2005. All 58 counties received federal disaster declarations to provide housing to victims of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans and much of the Gulf Coast. FEMA reported $1.9 million in public assistance grants and emergency work orders from the declaration.