Rains cause near-record flooding in S.E. Kansas, southwest Missouri

Monday, July 2, 2007
Floodwater from the Marais Des Cygnes River closed a road near Osawatomie, Kan., Sunday. Flooding worsened across southeast Kansas and southwest Missouri Sunday as high water levels forced more people from their homes. Forecasters said it could be days before area rivers begin returning to normal. (ORLIN WAGNER ~ Associated Press)

There have been limited evacuations in Missouri's Bates County.

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

This 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.

Police said the city was under a mandatory evacuation order, assisted by the Kansas National Guard.

"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."

Despite the order, residents could be seen using rowboats to survey the damage, including homes half underwater and sports utility vehicles submerged except for the top eight inches.

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.

The Verdigris River at Independence set a new 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.

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

In Missouri, officials said that although high waters in Cass, Jackson and Johnson counties are on the way down, they're now focused on parts of Vernon and Bates counties, where the Marais des Cygnes and Marmeton River were expected to continue rising over the next few days.

In Nevada, the Marmeton was at 29.5 feet, almost 10 feet above flood stage, while the Marais des Cygnes was expected to crest at 12 feet above flood stage Tuesday, said John Campbell, an operations manager for the State Emergency Management.

Campbell said there have been limited evacuations in Bates County and authorities are anxiously watching whether the floodwaters will rise above U.S. 71, the main route between Kansas City and Joplin.

Campbell added that authorities have confirmed that a small tornado touched down briefly Saturday night near the town of Eudora in Polk County. He said the damage was limited to a barn and some outbuildings.

At Horton, the Little Osage River was at 52.8 feet, 11 feet above flood stage, said Jim Taggart, a service hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Springfield.

Taggart said the flooding has affected a wide swath of roads and other traffic arteries, matching the disruptions from the historic floods of 1986.

"It might not be record flood ... but it's comparable," Taggart said, adding that the river levels were expected to fall over the next two days.

In southwest Missouri, some roads were closed by flooding after heavy rain from Saturday into Sunday. No injuries or substantial damage were reported by authorities around the region's two biggest population centers, Springfield and Joplin.

The Missouri Department of Transportation reported some roads closed in several counties in its Southwest District, including portions of U.S. 54 in Vernon County as well as several state and county routes.

Forecasters said they expected the rains to taper off Sunday evening and the area to begin drying out.

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