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Archive for Thursday, July 5, 2007

Damage assessed after flood, oil spill

July 5, 2007

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Flooded oil refinery could drive up gasoline prices

While homes in our area may have been spared from the recent flooding throughout Southeast Kansas, Douglas County residents could still feel the effects at the pumps. Enlarge video

— As some of the luckier residents of this southeast Kansas town enjoyed the Fourth of July, others will have less to celebrate as they return to homes damaged by floodwater.

Water continued to recede Wednesday, as drainage structures were opened on the Pottawatomie River. Power was restored to about 60 homes Tuesday night, allowing those residents to return, Miami County officials said in a news release Wednesday.

The number of people using a shelter in town dropped from about 200 to 86 Tuesday night.

Also Wednesday, officials said the 42,000 gallons of crude oil spilled into the Verdigris River when flash flooding hit a refinery in Coffeyville had mostly dissipated and there was no indication any of the oil reached Oklahoma's Lake Oologah, a source of municipal water for Tulsa and other communities.

Experts believe the thick, sticky oil had been captured by trees and other vegetation upstream from the lake, said Skylar McElhaney, a spokeswoman for the Department of Environmental Quality.

Jack Lipinski, chief executive officer of Coffeyville Resources, said Wednesday that employees were moving back into administrative offices and warehouses at the refinery and connected fertilizer plant but he still didn't know when the plant would reopen.

"We will not resume operations at either facility until it can be done safely," he said in a statement. "Once we know the extent of the damage, we will have a better idea of when we might be able to restart the facilities."

The company added that oil has stopped leaking from the refinery and officials are trying to determined what caused the oil spill.

For some in Osawatomie, like Jesse Kingsolver, the holiday would be another day of waiting to get back into a duplex he shared with his wife and two children. Shortly after the waters inundated Osawatomie on Sunday, the duplex was under 5 feet of water, and the family was able to salvage only some clothes and two vehicles.

By Tuesday afternoon, Kingsolver said he expected it to be three or four days before he could get into the duplex again.

Like many others, Kingsolver has no flood insurance because his duplex was in a flood plain.

"We signed up for some aid from FEMA, but they're not here yet," he said Tuesday. "For now, we're just waiting."

Kingsolver's duplex was one of 210 dwellings - including single-family homes, duplexes, mobile homes and apartments - that were under water Tuesday. But heat and 20 pumps from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers were making progress against the water.

Law enforcement officers and National Guard troops were watching the flooded areas, and residents were being discouraged from returning to their homes until city and county inspectors were able to check them.

The residences must be dry before electricity and gas can be restored, said Mark Schmidt, Miami County undersheriff.

"Once the water recedes, they can get in there and inspect the dwellings pretty quickly," Schmidt said.

The Salvation Army was serving meals and distributing donations that had poured in for residents since Sunday. So many clothes had been donated that people were being discouraged from bringing more, but donations of tools - such as shovels, hoses, gloves, boots and drills - would be appreciated, said Rob Roberts, director of the Miami County Salvation Army.

State officials said many other people, like the Kingsolvers, were staying with relatives. The flooding has forced at least 1,000 people from their homes throughout southeast Kansas, said Sharon Watson, spokeswoman for the Kansas adjutant general.

One of those is Frankie Brewer, who along with her husband and son is living with different relatives and eating in different places - including the shelter - as they wait for water to recede from their mobile home in Osawatomie.

"People have been so nice," Brewer said. "But it's one of those things where you don't want to impose too much."

On Tuesday, Brewer was wondering how she was going to get her trailer out from under the water that had inundated her southern Osawatomie neighborhood.

"They say, 'God willing and the creek don't rise,"' she said as she waited for her husband and son to salvage anything they could from the trailer. "Well, the creek went right through my trailer."

The flooding also has had an impact on blood supplies in Kansas because of canceled blood drives, resulting in a shortage of about 150 pints statewide this week alone, officials said.

With June a particularly challenging month because of disasters, the Red Cross is now facing a deficit of 500 pints of blood statewide and has issued an emergency appeal to blood donors.

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