CBS reporter Kelly Cobiella’s reaction to flooding in the northeast United States was to call for federal aid. All she needed to do to understand that wasn’t a good idea was to watch her own news show.
Cobiella’s call came during the October 13 “Evening News,” which did a two-part segment on flooding in the northeast. Cobiella was in New Hampshire and Claire Duvall reported from New Jersey. Cobiella began the report and after surveying the New Hampshire flood damage she declared “There is a real need for federal help here.”
Duvall then followed up, interviewing Oakland, N.J., resident Ruth Brock. Brock lamented that flooding “has happened three times since April. Prior to that it was three times since 1955.”
The flooding in New Jersey was partly caused by work on a local dam. Dam construction is diverting the water, making the flooding worse. The dam was to be lowered by grinding it, allowing more water to leave prior to the flood, but it was held up by governmental red tape.
Mayor John P. Szabo Jr. of Oakland explained what happened in the local newspaper “The Record” on September 18. He stated that the city had been working with the Army Corps of Engineers for months to no avail. Yet despite all his efforts to protect his citizens, “it has been one bureaucratic road block after another. The final outrage is the Army Corps telling us it will not have the equipment to perform the grinding operation until the end of the month.”
Then in a prescient statement, more than three weeks before the broadcast, he said that “This is too late. Rain season is upon us, raising the water level of the Ramapo River too high to perform the necessary operation. The result? The people of the Doty Road area can expect to be flooded out by a project that was supposed to help them.” Unfortunately, the mayor was right.
Despite that boondoggle, Cobiella was pushing a pro-government agenda when she interviewed New Hampshire resident Susan Whitbread, whose home was washed away. Cobiella said “she doesn't know if she'll get any federal aid, and flood insurance alone won't cover the cost to rebuild.”
Yet flood insurance is federal aid. It’s a federal program established in 1968 because private insurers found it too risky to cover people whose homes flooded. This aid from the government has backfired, subsidizing risky behavior and promotes building in disaster prone areas. In an October 11 story the Washington Post reported that “Nationally, properties with multiple losses account for about 25 percent of the flood program's losses while representing 2 percent of all insured property.”
Cobiella reported that “damage could be in the tens of millions of dollars in hard-hit New Hampshire alone.” While tragic, it is nowhere near the same level as a hurricane or earthquake such as Hurricane Katrina. Damage for that storm is estimated more than $200 billion.