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Archive for Saturday, July 7, 2007

Coffeyville residents ordered out after workers get sick

July 7, 2007

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— National Guardsmen manned barricades closing streets into flooded neighborhoods, where lawns were streaked with blackish oily stains left behind when the water receded and where one man found dead in a motel was believed to be the flood's first fatality.

"It is very important that we get reports of anyone who has not been seen in the last few days or who may be missing," city clerk Cindy Price said Thursday at a town meeting that was attended by about 1,000 residents.

On Friday, the state also began coordinating flood response efforts in Coffeyville at the request of city officials and ordered residents away from the contaminated areas after emergency workers began experiencing rashes and diarrhea.

Floodwaters in the area also carry some of the 71,000 gallons of crude oil - far more than the 42,000 gallons originally reported to have spilled from the Coffeyville Resources refinery Sunday, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The spill, caused by a malfunction while the refinery shut down before the flooding, has concerned federal and state officials as they monitor the slick's progress down the Verdigris River.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Friday in a press release that two flood water samples from Coffeyville showed high levels of fecal coliform bacteria. The EPA said the tests showed the level of the bacteria was more than 130 times the standard and that the bacteria can cause stomach-ache, fever, vomiting and diarrhea.

Locusts next?

Also Friday, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius said she hasn't ruled out calling the Legislature into special session to deal with the flooding, which has left about 3,150 homes damaged or destroyed. She said she isn't sure the state has enough disaster relief funds.

She said the flooding represents the third natural disaster to hit Kansas this year, following a winter ice storm that affected 44 counties and the May tornadoes.

"The locusts may come next," she said. "We hope not."

About 20 counties in southeast Kansas were declared federal disasters after torrential weekend rains pushed rivers well past flood stage. In Coffeyville, a town of about 16,000, the old record of 26.6 feet fell Saturday night as the Verdigris River surged past 29 feet, more than 10 feet above flood stage. It has since receded.

"Approximately one-fourth of Coffeyville's population has been seriously affected by this disaster, in numbers, probably more people than were affected by the tornadoes in Greensburg," City Manager Jeff Morris said, referring to the tornado that demolished the central Kansas town of Greensburg on May 4.

Tetanus shot crisis

Officials also encouraged Coffeyville residents who come in contact with the contaminated water to get tetanus shots but said the supply was low.

"The state is scrounging for vaccines," Montgomery County Health Director Ruth Bardwell said. "With two disasters in two months, it has been a real strain to provide needed vaccinations."

Joe Blubaugh, spokesman for the state Department of Health and Environment, said Friday the state had shipped 3,441 doses of tetanus vaccine to southeast Kansas since the flooding began. He said there remained 1,170 unfilled requests from the region, but that a shipment of more than 3,000 doses was expected Monday.

"By Monday we should have all the dose requests filled and a balance left over," he said.

Police Commander Mike Brown said about 200 homes had been inspected by late Thursday and that many were being marked with a large X to indicate the structure had been checked for victims, high gas content and damage.

Body found; water trucked

The body was discovered at the Budget Inn during a search-and-rescue operation Thursday, authorities said. Police believe the victim, who was not identified, was warned of the impending flood last weekend but refused to leave his hotel room.

The contaminated floodwater also has strained drinking water supplies for cities and rural water districts throughout southeast Kansas, prompting officials to truck in several semitrailer loads of bottled water. Water boil advisories were issued for several cities and rural water districts in southeast Kansas and northeast Oklahoma because of fears of contaminants.

No insurance coverage

The Kansas Adjutant General's Department said 3,150 homes in five counties - Montgomery, Miami, Wilson, Elk and Neosho - were destroyed or suffered major damage. The heaviest damage was in Miami and Montgomery counties, which each had about 1,000 homes that were either destroyed or sustained major damage.

Sebelius said homeowners' insurance policies do not cover such damage.

"They are not going to get compensated by their homeowners' insurance, even if they had insurance," Sebelius said. "There are going to be a lot of people really in pretty desperate shape."

Blackish-brown water lines mark the height of the oily floodwaters on the small, clapboard homes and other buildings on the east side of Coffeyville.

Regal Inn owner, Sanjiv Gandhi, was staying with his wife, Krina, and two teenage daughters in one of three Red Cross emergency shelters Friday.

Perched on their bunks in the church shelter the family said they were ordered to flee at short notice Sunday morning and left with nothing. Gandhi said residents have not been allowed back into the neighborhood and he was only able to see the motel for the first time Friday when one street was opened.

"It's a total loss," he said. "The flood marks are at least 10 feet high and it went into the whole first floor."

He said he doesn't know what insurance will cover or if they will be able to get some money from Coffeyville Resources, which has opened a claim center in town for people with flood damage.

Gandhi said he went to the claim center Friday and filled out a form but did not get any information about when or how much he might be paid.

"They say they're here from out of state and they don't know anything," Krina Gandhi said.

Gandhi said the next mortgage payment for the motel and a smaller motel that was also inundated is due Monday.

"We are losing business from all this week until I don't know when," he said. "Who's going to pay for that?"

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