The Johnstown Area Flood of 1977:

A Case Study for the Future

CED-78-114: Published: May 5, 1978. Publicly Released: May 5, 1978.

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In July 1977, the Johnstown, Pennsylvania, area was declared a major disaster area after a flood struck 136 communities in 8 counties and killed 76 people, injured or caused illness to 2,700, and damaged over $300 million in property. Federal disaster assistance to the Johnstown area is expected to total $261 million. Assistance was available to individual victims and State and local governments from 12 Federal agencies responsible for 27 programs.

Most of the victims interviewed rated Federal disaster response as excellent or good. There were no complaints about coordination of the Federal response, but some victims had complaints about specific programs or about the number of forms that had to be completed for each agency. The independence of the Federal coordinating officer from the Federal Disaster Assistance Administration contributed to the overall success of the Federal recovery effort. Without the nearly $26 million in flood insurance proceeds paid by the National Flood Insurance Program, additional loans and grants would have been required. A local flash flood warning system could have alerted authorities to the disaster much sooner, and an improved communications system could have provided better and quicker emergency assistance to the disaster area. The Federal Insurance Administration did not: adequately monitor community enforcement of floodplain management regulations, adequately encourage communities to participate in the flood insurance program, or actively encourage property owners to purchase flood insurance. No disaster assistance was denied those not covered by flood insurance, but victims were sometimes required to purchase flood insurance

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