The Truth About Numbers

With the devastation that was brought to the region by Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee, it seems as though everyone has been scrambling to find statistics that accurately depict the damage that the community has endured. Statistical accuracies are proving quite elusive however, and the amount of numbers circulating about the region are enough to make one dizzy.

One can look to FEMA and the number of persons who have applied for aid as a reliable source of quantifiable data from the region. Eugene Brezany, spokesman for FEMA, confirmed that as of Oct. 11th, 2,238 applications have been received for Columbia County. Of those, 1,876 appear to be from renters or private property owners; the difference between the two figures would include business owners or those who were not eligible for aid. But even these statistics are not necessarily all encompassing as there may be others who have filed privately with their insurance and not with state or federal officials.

The numbers recently provided by the Red Cross for Columbia County were only a fraction of what was initially estimated in damages to private property. The updated estimates included 141 homes destroyed and 661 homes with major damage, 465 with minor damage, and 621 affected in some way for a total of 1,888 homes either damaged or destroyed by the flood. These figures were based on home to home assessments performed by Red Cross Damage Assessment teams.

The day after these revised statistics were printed in the Press Enterprise (paywall) newspaper, their headline news read “Official: Flood ousted 2,000+ families.” The article (by Peter Kendron, 10-5-11) cited Rich Kisner of the Columbia County Housing Authority as having estimated that this number of households “may have” been displaced. Furthermore, this appears to be based on Kisner’s analysis and interpretation of flood maps for the region.

When contacted by the Bloomsburg Daily for clarification, Kisner explained, “My comment is based solely on flood maps. There are 2000 homes in the 100 year [flood] zone and another 1000 in the 500 year [flood] zone. We believe that the water level, in most areas, reached at or near the 500 year zone. “ He went on to say that his estimates derived from the flood maps were indicative of the number of homes affected by the flood and that the numbers “do not mean that families are displaced.”

The number of families displaced by the flood is something considerably harder to pinpoint than the number of homes damaged or destroyed. Rita Inklovitch, executive director of the Bloomsburg Chapter of the Red Cross explained, “Bear in mind, that people displaced covers a lot of scenarios; temporarily or permanent displacement. Many people are displaced only while they clean up because of mold and other issues and may have minor damage.”

There may also be persons who are staying with friends or family and have so far escaped inclusion in a statistical analysis. Nonetheless, concrete data is being compiled by the day. In the end, the final tally of displaced is the one that matters the most – the number of people that lost their houses or were permanently relocated because of the flood.