Archive for Thursday, May 20, 2004

Heavy rains lead to flash flooding in Kansas City

May 20, 2004


— Heavy overnight rains caused flash flooding in parts of Kansas City and outlying areas, with high water closing some roads and highways, and police and fire officials reporting a number of rescues from motor vehicles.

As traffic slowed Wednesday morning, officials urged motorists to delay their morning commutes for 30 minutes to an hour if possible.

The downtown airport in Kansas City had close to 4 inches of rain in only about three hours early Wednesday. For the 24-hour period ending at 7 a.m., the rainfall there totaled 4.74 inches, while Kansas City International Airport, farther to the north, had just 1.82 inches.

Rainfall totals of 5 to 6 inches were common across parts of southern Jackson County, which includes Kansas City, the National Weather Service said. Immediately to the south, in Cass County, trained spotters reported nearly 8 inches of rain over a seven-hour period.

Heavy rains also caused scattered flooding across parts of central Missouri and into the St. Louis area, where there were flash flood warnings for several eastern counties. A morning rush hour downpour made for a slow commute in St. Louis. U.S. 40 was flooded in spots, forcing cars to come to a near halt, and several accidents were reported.

The Kansas City Fire Department said that between 3:30 a.m. and 7 a.m. its crews responded to 32 incidents where people needed to be rescued from their cars after driving into high water. Rescues were also made by crews in neighboring Kansas City, Kan.

One of those pulled to safety on the Missouri side, Lonnie Riddlesprigger, said he was heading home from work after 5 a.m. and discovered the route he usually takes had been blocked off by police because of the flooding. He tried to make his way home using another route along back roads, and ended up being swept away.

"The road was just fine," he told Kansas City television station KCTV, which filmed his rescue by fire crews. "There was not a hazard sign saying I shouldn't go that way."

But suddenly, he said, the front end of his car "just went completely under."

"I panicked," Riddlesprigger said. "I don't know how to swim, so I jumped out the window and crawled up on top of the car."

He said he could see a light in the distance and began yelling for help, and finally someone hollered back that they'd called 911 and someone was on the way.

The fast-moving water left Riddlesprigger's car wedged up against a sign and a tree, and he hung on to the branches while waiting to be rescued.

"I was holding on for dear life," he said.

Riddlesprigger said a rescue unit on one side of the rushing water couldn't reach him, but a firefighter from another crew made his way to him through chest-high water with a rope and life jacket and he was pulled to safety.

Riddlesprigger said he at first thought of jumping into the water and trying to make it to dry land on his own, but was glad he waited because the water was so swift he couldn't even touch the ground with his feet once he got in with the firefighter.

"I'm lucky to be alive," he said.

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