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Archive for Tuesday, October 4, 2005

Receding water shows depths of destruction

Damage assessment not yet complete, but roads obviously in bad shape

October 4, 2005

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As flood waters rapidly receded Monday throughout Northeast Kansas counties hit hard by heavy weekend rain, it was time to assess the damage.

The damage report for roads and bridges in Jefferson County was expected to be bleak, Emergency Services Director Don Haynes said.

"Almost every road in the county is at least going to need to be bladed and gravel hauled in," Haynes said.

It was unclear how much damage there was to homes and vehicles that were flooded or swept away in the floods. Damage to other public infrastructure still needs to be assessed.

"We have a lot of people ready to go out and look at damage, but, of course, we can't do anything until we don't have to walk through water," said Joy Moser, spokeswoman for the Kansas Adjutant General's office and the Kansas Division of Emergency Management.

Moser said she didn't know whether the total damage in Northeast Kansas would be large enough to spur a presidential declaration of emergency for the area.

Several Jefferson County bridges will need to be repaired or rebuilt, but a complete list wasn't available Monday. Haynes specifically identified a bridge near the intersection of U.S. Highway 24 and Douglas Road, which has a 20-foot span missing. Also out was a bridge on 102nd Street near the Kansas Highways 4 and 92 near Meriden, he said.

Early Monday morning, the water from the flooded Muddy Creek had receded from U.S. 24 east of Grantville. The state had closed the highway early Sunday because of the floodwaters but was able to reopen it about 3:30 a.m. Monday.

The Union Pacific Railroad was working to repair several washouts along its rail lines in Northeast Kansas, including two rail bridges east of Grantville. A freight train remained stranded there between the washed-out bridges Monday. Two crewmen were rescued by boat from the train Sunday afternoon after four of its cars derailed, UP spokesman Mark Davis said.

Boil orders issued

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment issued boil orders Monday for Easton in northern Leavenworth County and portions of Atchison County's Rural Water District 5C, located south of Kansas Highway 116 and the Delaware River.

Easton, which was hit hard by flooding, was unable to produce water, state health officials said. There was a major water line break in Atchison County, they said. The advisories will remain in effect until further notice.

Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius declared a state of emergency Sunday in Jefferson, Jackson, Leavenworth and Shawnee counties. That authorized six state agencies to provide assistance, including the Kansas National Guard and the KDHE.

Guard troops, which fall under the command of the adjutant general, were only called into action in Shawnee County, where they helped evacuate residents of Rossville Manor, Moser said. About 35 members of the 35th Military Police Co. were already assembled and conducting drills in Topeka when the call for help was made, Moser said. They completed their mission and were sent home Sunday night, she said.

Despite having Guard troops in Iraq and hurricane-damaged areas along the Gulf of Mexico, Kansas still has plenty of troops to call on for emergencies at home, Moser said. There are 2,200 Guard troops overseas and 300 in Mississippi and Louisiana. That leaves more than 4,000 who still can be immediately assembled, she said.

Storms kept coming

The continuous thunderstorms that began Saturday night and continued through early Sunday morning dumped nearly a foot of rain in some places. Oskaloosa received 9.8 inches of rain while 10.25 inches was recorded near Meriden, according to the National Weather Service. Radar estimates of rain at Grantville and Easton were 10 to 12 inches. By contrast, Lawrence received 1.08 inches.

"The storm system was moving, but we just kept getting thunderstorms that were lined up in east-west fashion," said Gordon Strassber, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Topeka. "They just kept reforming and moving over the same locations."

The Kansas River overflowed its banks in Lawrence late Sunday and early Monday. Water covered some ground in Burcham and Riverfront parks. The water started receding almost as quickly as it came up. There were no concerns about the river causing a serious flood, said Jim Putnam, hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Lawrence.

But the rains caused record or near-record water levels in the Soldier and Stranger creek basins, according to USGS stream gauges. Recordings Sunday showed the highest river level ever recorded at Soldier Creek near Topeka, where it reached 34.67 feet - seven feet higher than the previous record set in June 1982. The water level at Stranger Creek near Tonganoxie reached 29.36 feet, or just slightly under the record of 29.81 feet set four years ago.

Although forecasts called for chances of rain throughout the rest of the week, no heavy rains were expected, Strassber said.

Preparation pays

Emergency crews breathed a sigh of relief after no serious injuries were recorded in Jefferson County during the flood. Although several people were rescued or evacuated by boats, the efforts went as well as could be expected, considering the chaotic circumstances, Haynes said.

"This thing happened very quickly," Haynes said. "People may have underestimated the force of the water. It was just tremendous."

Jefferson County agencies had met earlier this year to discuss water rescue efforts and study lessons learned from a middle-of-the-night boating accident that occurred on Perry Lake two summers ago. One person was killed and others were injured in that incident. The Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks also took part in the discussion.

"The big thing was just knowing the people and what they had," Haynes said.

Douglas County agencies also are ready and are regularly tweaking emergency plans, said Mark Bradford, deputy chief with Lawrence-Douglas County Fire & Medical, and Teri Smith, assistant director with the Douglas County Emergency Management office.

The fire department has three hard-bottomed boats and two inflatable boats, Bradford said. All department personnel are trained in water rescue, and crews at Station 3, 3708 W. Sixth St., have received higher-level special training in water rescue, Bradford said.

Neither Bradford nor Smith recalled any flash flooding locally that resulted from a foot of rain having fallen. But there have been several times in just the last couple of years where several inches of rain fell in a short amount of time.

"We've had significant rainfalls where we've performed numerous urban flash-flooding responses," Bradford said.

No Douglas County agencies were called on to assist with rescue efforts in Jefferson County or the other counties. That included the Douglas County Chapter of the American Red Cross. If such an event occurred in Douglas County, the Red Cross also would be ready, Executive Director Jane Blocher said.

The main job of the Red Cross would be to open a shelter, Blocher said. Although the agency currently has 10 volunteers working in hurricane-damaged areas, there are still plenty of volunteers here at home, she said. There were 50 volunteers trained just last month and there were 30 volunteers already on the roster.

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