Floodwaters make mess of Ottawa
Ottawa -- Record-breaking rainfall over the past several days has chased thousands of Kansans to higher ground, swamped towns and left many remembering the 1951 flood that has been called the state's worst disaster.
"I saw the '51 flood but it was not this bad," said Kay Vogler, 70, of Ottawa as she watched water rush over the U.S. Highway 59 bridge, while floodgates kept it from nearby downtown businesses.
The water has dropped quite a bit since Sunday, Vogler said.
"It's the worst I've ever seen," she said. "But I am so grateful for flood control, because if we did not have the floodgates it would be disastrous."
Some towns were hit hard as rivers peaked after a weekend of historic rainfall amounts that surpassed 20 inches in some areas.
President Bush issued a federal disaster declaration for 18 southeast Kansas counties, including Franklin County.
No flood-related fatalities had been reported as of Monday evening.
Franklin County damage
As the floodwaters began to subside, Franklin County leaders tried to survey damage Monday. Flooded roads were starting to open every hour.
"It will be (today) and even into next week before we have a complete idea of the damage we have in the county," said Alan Radcliffe, Franklin County emergency management director.
He said overall damage in the county didn't appear to be as severe as other places, but about 40 to 50 homes, including 10 to 15 in Lane, were evacuated or sustained floodwater damage. No injuries were reported.
In Ottawa, five businesses on the western side of the city sustained damage. Heavy rains that began Wednesday rose the Marais de Cygnes River about 41 feet, or about 4 feet below the top of the levee, which caused the city to close the levee's underground gates Saturday.
Then, rain that fell in the city later Saturday was unable to drain into the river. In that situation, the city's pump system kicks in to move new rainwater over the levee and into the river. But because it rained so much, it caused more flooding at low-lying spots, Radcliffe said.
The gates on the Main Street bridge were closed Saturday and kept downtown from any significant flood damage, Radcliffe said.
"Comparing it to a flood, this is probably the worst flood we've had since '51," Radcliffe said.
Ottawa had received about 10 inches of rain since Wednesday, and about 17 inches of rain fell in some parts of southern Franklin County. Emergency management officials are still surveying damage, Radcliffe said.
"It just stormed really bad and flooded a lot of streets," said Melissa Daniels, of Ottawa. "It flooded my church, Bethany Church, and we had to go pump water out of the church. It was like 3 feet of water.
"When you wade in it, you could feel it push you to the side. It is hard to walk through. All the debris kicks at your feet and you have to pick your feet up to get through the debris."
Della Sandgren, Ottawa, owns the building with a Dollar General and liquor stores just north of the river and the U.S. 59 bridge.
Sandgren said her parking lot was covered in 6 inches of water. The Dollar General store had about 3 inches of water in it, but it went out on its own, she said.
"Lots of property owners will be clearing brush and muck out of their houses," she said.
Health officials urged residents to stay out of flooded areas because of sewage, hazardous materials and other spills in the water.
High river levels
Rivers in southeast Kansas reached historic levels over the weekend.
The Fall River at Fredonia, Elk River at Elk Falls and Verdigris River at Independence hit their highest river stages since 1945, the Neosho River near Parsons crested at its highest stage since 1951 and the Marais des Cygnes River hit its highest level since gauge operation started in 1959.
"Provisional information indicates that the flood peaks on the Verdigris River, Fall River and Marais des Cygnes River will be greater than the 100-year flood levels, meaning that these floods have a 1 percent chance of occurring in any given year," said Jim Putnam, U.S. Geological Service hydrologist.