Flood Ruined 30,000 Military Maps

By Michael D. Sorkin and Robert L. Koenig Of the Post-Dispatch 1993, St. Louis Post-Dispatch | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), September 19, 1993 | Go to article overview

Flood Ruined 30,000 Military Maps


Michael D. Sorkin and Robert L. Koenig Of the Post-Dispatch 1993, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


Floodwater that swamped a Defense Mapping Agency compound here destroyed at least 30,000 military maps - some irreplaceable - that officials had failed to remove or protect, the Post-Dispatch has learned.

Mapping agency officials estimated last week that the flood caused $15 million to $20 million in structural damage to the compound. But that sum excludes millions of dollars in damage to contents - furniture, equipment, supplies and thousands of classified maps.

Some employees at the federal agency say the maps - used by the Pentagon and some U.S. intelligence agencies - were needlessly ruined. They say supervisors failed to follow a disaster plan calling for maps and other documents to be removed if a flood threatens.

The mapping agency's compound at 8900 South Broadway is on a flood plain. Managers there were well aware of their danger: they prepared the maps that allowed the city of St. Louis to evacuate thousands of people all around the mapping agency in the weeks before the flood.

"So why didn't they get their own maps out?" an employee of the mapping agency asked last week.

The man in charge of the mapping agency's St. Louis offices and its 3,000 employees is Lon Smith. He has refused to comment.

Agency spokesmen play down damage to the maps and other contents. James G. Mohan, a spokesman here, insisted that the agency was able to remove everything necessary for employees to continue their work.

He said the maps lost in the flood had little value. If they had been valuable, they would have been removed before the flood, he said.

A source on Capitol Hill said 43,000 maps had been ruined in the flood.

David Black, a Defense Mapping spokesman in Washington, put the loss at 30,000 file folders containing an unknown number of maps. He said also that many of the ruined maps were going to be shredded anyway in a planned purge.

But several employees said the map files were purged before the flood struck during the weekend of July 30.

"Only the essential files were left" unpurged, one employee said. "And those maps were under water" after the flood.

Another Capitol Hill aide familiar with the mapping agency responded to assertions that the ruined maps had little value: "They either lost documents of value, or they are spending an awful lot of money to store worthless items."

Another government source said some maps lost in the flood were irreplaceable.h

Some maps dated to World War II. "How do you place a value on a unique map that's 50 years old?" the source asked.

He said most of the recent maps can be replaced because they were reproduced from satellite photos. He was unsure what percentage of the maps were irreplaceable. …

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