Archive for Monday, July 2, 2007

Rains stop, but waters rise

Floodgates protect downtown Ottawa

The Marais Des Cygnes River flows over the U.S. Highway 59 bridge in Ottawa as closed floodgates protect the downtown business district. Flooding worsened Sunday across southeast Kansas and southwest Missouri as high water levels forced more people from their homes and forecasters said it could be days before area rivers begin returning to normal. Among the hardest hit regions was Osawatomie in Miami County, where the Kansas National Guard was deployed to help with a mandatory evacuation of the city as workers struggled to reinforce a levee on the Marais des Cygnes.

The Marais Des Cygnes River flows over the U.S. Highway 59 bridge in Ottawa as closed floodgates protect the downtown business district. Flooding worsened Sunday across southeast Kansas and southwest Missouri as high water levels forced more people from their homes and forecasters said it could be days before area rivers begin returning to normal. Among the hardest hit regions was Osawatomie in Miami County, where the Kansas National Guard was deployed to help with a mandatory evacuation of the city as workers struggled to reinforce a levee on the Marais des Cygnes.

July 2, 2007

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Heavy rains

In the period from 7 a.m. Wednesday to 7 p.m. Sunday, the National Weather Service reported that 10.38 inches of rain fell at Ottawa, while the extreme southern portion of Franklin County received 17.25 inches.

During that same period, 6News weather forecaster Sarah Jones said, the rainfall recorded at Lawrence Municipal Airport north of the city measured just 1.73 inches.

— During heavy rains here Saturday, Tyler Carey, 24, could see the water ominously inching toward his house in the eastern part of the city.

It crept within 3 feet of his front porch. By Sunday evening, Carey looked out onto the body of water that had spilled over from the Marais des Cygnes River, which runs through Ottawa. It had overwhelmed the bottoms area by his house near East Second and South Poplar streets.

"I never thought in my wildest dreams that it would come all the way up to my house," he said.

His two closest neighbors had left during the flooding, and Carey and his wife propped up their furniture. The couple and their three children spent Saturday night elsewhere with family, but they were back at home Sunday because the waters never reached the home.

"Everyone's pretty much in shock," Carey said.

Longtime Ottawa residents stood Sunday evening on top of the levee near downtown in awe of how high the Marais des Cygnes River had risen. Gates at the levee on Main Street had closed as the high water sped through.

The bridge that connects northern Ottawa to downtown was covered with water.

"I haven't seen it this high," said Steve Martin, a longtime resident of rural Ottawa, who estimated the river had risen 30 to 40 feet.

Emergency management officials in Ottawa and Franklin County said Sunday that there were no mandatory evacuations but some people left their homes voluntarily. Dispatchers said Sunday that no injuries were reported.

Major flooding problems appeared to be mostly on the eastern and western ends of the city. Several children were swimming in water that had collected at Forest Park in the northwest part of town. Near there, a road sign had blocked access to westbound Kansas Highway 68 but it was opened later.

The overpass nearby allowed drivers to travel over the high river. Most places near downtown, including Ottawa University, appeared dry.

But in lower-lying areas like around Carey's house, large masses of water seeped up against homes.

"When the water gets like this, there's no way that it can handle it all," said Lester Edwards, who lives in northern Ottawa but was surveying damage across town Sunday evening.

Hard-hit Osawatomie

Flooding also worsened Sunday across east-central and southeast Kansas as high water levels forced more people from their homes and forecasters said it could be days before area rivers begin returning to normal.

Osawatomie, a town of 4,600, was among the hardest hit as the Pottawatomie Creek inundated neighborhoods to the south, while workers struggled to reinforce a leaking levee on the Marais des Cygnes to the north.

Mayor Philip Dudley said 40 percent of the town was under a mandatory evacuation order and officials were being assisted by the Kansas National Guard.

Dudley corrected earlier reports that a levee had failed along the Pottawatomie, saying stormwaters had overwhelmed pumping stations along the creek but that levees and dikes were holding.

"I've been up since yesterday morning at 4:45, but I'm maintaining," he said. "It's just the adrenaline factor and concern for the town and the people."

Many of the residents were ignoring the evacuation order, wading back to their homes for belongings.

"They came and told us to leave at 6:30 this morning," said Shanda Dehay, 17. "We weren't able to get anything out. These clothes I'm wearing are my aunt's."

Other residents could be seen using rowboats to survey the damage, including homes half underwater and sport utility vehicles submerged except for the top 8 inches.

Among those was construction worker Joe Clark, 54, who was paddling a canoe with his brother through his neighborhood, helping people retrieve items from their homes.

Clark couldn't get into his own home of 20 years because the water had already risen to within a few feet of the eaves.

"Might as well help people get out what they can," Clark said. "I can't get to anything of mine."

Record water levels

The river was expected to reach 49 feet Sunday night, just shy of the record level of 50.3 feet, said Maren Stoflet, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Pleasant Hill.

"It's going to be a few days before we get some of the higher rivers to come down," Stoflet said, adding that the Marais des Cygnes at La Cygne and Osawatomie may not begin lowering until late Wednesday or early Thursday.

In Independence and Coffeyville, officials were preparing for additional flooding along the Verdigris River, which already has hit record levels, as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers planned to open floodgates at the Elk City and Fall River Toronto Lake reservoirs farther upstream to alleviate pressure.

Andy Kmetz with the corps' office in Tulsa, Okla., said officials have tried to hold back floodwaters as long as possible.

"When you get up to the point where it's full, for the safety of the structure and the dam you have to release what's coming in," Kmetz said.

The Verdigris River at Independence set a record of 52.4 feet Sunday morning, shattering the old mark of 47.6 feet and more than 20 feet above flood stage. In Coffeyville, the old record of 26.6 feet fell Saturday night as the river surged past 29 feet, more than 10 feet above flood stage.

"Releasing the water may not cause the river to crest higher, but it may cause the crest to remain for a longer period of time," said Robb Lawson, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Wichita.

The Neosho River was expected to set a record Sunday night, cresting at 40.5 feet at Erie in Neosho County, where officials have evacuated residents. Flood stage is 29 feet.

"It's pretty unbelievable," Lawson said, adding that he expected most of the rivers to begin dropping today or early Tuesday.

The Fall River in Fredonia in Wilson County was starting to come down after hitting a record of 41.12 feet Saturday, although it was still far above flood stage of 17 feet.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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