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What's the scoop

If you burned your hand touching a hot stove, would you touch it again?

If you pulled a cat's tail and were scratched, would you pull it again?

If you built a house near a river, and it was washed away in a flood, would you build it again?

Record floods along the Ohio River this month _ and fear of flooding still to come along rivers in the upper Midwest _ have brought renewed attention to the question of what people learn (or don't learn) after disaster strikes.

More important for government leaders, the flooding has raised the question of whether tax money should be spent to help residents rebuild in flood-prone areas. Many people think the money would be better spent helping residents move elsewhere.

Vice President Al Gore is one who thinks that way. When he toured the flooded Ohio River Valley, Gore said leaders in areas where flooding is common should encourage residents to relocate to safer places _ not spend money over and over to rebuild after floods.

The same has been said of beach areas that are repeatedly battered by stormy ocean waves or hurricanes.

Record waters

Many of the areas affected by flooding have been hit before. But the damage this year has been uncommonly severe because of record winter rainfall and snow melt.

The water in this year's Ohio River flood crested more than 40 feet above the normal level of the river. As flood waters worked their way west toward the Mississippi, they knocked homes off foundations, fouled drinking water supplies, flushed sewage from treatment plants and sent it floating across the countryside.

More than 40 people died, and there were fears that water-carried disease would sicken hundreds of others. Floods this high happen once a generation, or about every 30 years. The last Ohio River flood that could compare with 1997's was in 1964. The one before that was in 1937.

It's not over

As bad as the flooding has already been, experts fear it could yet be overshadowed by what is to come in upper Midwestern states like North and South Dakota.

That area also has had record snows, and the land is flatter than the region just affected. When the snow melts, it will create slow-moving lakes that will take weeks to drain off.

In both areas, damage to homes, businesses, schools and roads is expected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

Some of that money will come out of the pockets of the property owners themselves. More will come from insurance companies. And much will be sought from the federal government's disaster relief funds.

But there may be a limit to federal dollars. Since 1977, some $150-billion has been spent on federal disaster relief. Many lawmakers in Congress feel government cannot afford to be diet always spending more _ even in times of disaster.

The amount of money the government decides to provide will have a huge effect on flood victims as they clean up and try to put their lives back together.

Activities

1. Sometimes government has to choose between the rights of individual land owners and the best interests of a state or nation as a whole. Is it safe or correct to allow people to build or rebuild in areas where flooding occurs? Pretend your class is Congress and try to write new rules to cover flooding, flood relief money and construction in flood areas.

2. Look through the real estate advertising in today's newspaper and see how much it costs to build or buy a house. Compare the prices of houses in different areas. Why are some more expensive than others, even if the houses look similar?

3. The national, state and local governments spend a lot of money on programs to help people. Look through the newspaper and find a story about such a program. Who is helped by it? How much does it cost? In your opinion, is this a good use of tax money?

4. Floods have a huge effect on land and buildings. Look through the photos in today's paper for one showing a neighborhood, street, or outdoor area. Make a list of everything that would be affected in the photo if a flood filled the area shown.

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