OSAWATOMIE, Kan. (AP) – Flooding worsened Sunday across parts of Kansas and Missouri, forcing more people from their homes, and meteorologists said it could be days before rivers return to normal following days of drenching rainfall on the Plains.
The Kansas National Guard was sent to help with a mandatory evacuation of Osawatomie, a town of 4,600, as the overflowing Pottawatomie Creek inundated neighborhoods and workers struggled to reinforce a levee on the Marais des Cygne.
Mayor Philip Dudley said 40 percent of the town was under the evacuation order.
“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, many residents waded through the water or paddled in rowboats for their belongings and to survey the damage, which included homes that were half underwater and nearly submerged vehicles.
Construction worker Joe Clark, 54, and his brother helped people retrieve items from their homes with their canoe. Clark couldn’t get into his own home 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.”
Dudley corrected earlier reports that a levee had failed along the Pottawatomie Creek, saying storm waters had overwhelmed pumping stations along the creek but that levees and dikes are still holding.
Storms across the southern Plains have claimed 11 lives in Texas since more than a week ago, and two Texans were missing.
That state has gotten some of the worst of the lingering storm system, with the weather service measuring more than 11 inches of rain in June at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, about a half-inch shy of the 1928 record. The town of Marble Falls collected about 18 inches in one night last week.
Kansas officials also were preparing for additional flooding at Independence and Coffeyville along the Verdigris River, which already had reached record levels, as the Army Corps of Engineers planned to open floodgates at the Elk City and Fall River Toronto Lake reservoirs upstream.
“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,” said Andy Kmetz of the Corps’ office in Tulsa, Okla.
The Verdigris River at Independence rose to a record 52.4 feet Sunday morning, shattering the old mark of 47.6 feet and more than 20 feet above flood stage.
The Neosho River was expected to set a record late Sunday, cresting at 40.5 feet at Erie in Neosho County, where officials had already evacuated residents. Flood stage is 29 feet.
In Missouri, the Little Osage and Marmeton rivers were well above flood stage and still rising in some spots Sunday, said Jim Taggart, a weather service hydrologist in Springfield.
Numerous roads were closed in southwest Missouri.
Highways across wide areas of Oklahoma also remained closed Sunday because of flood damage.
Some of Oklahoma’s worst flooding Sunday was near Bartlesville, where the Caney River was more than 3 feet above flood stage. The river was expected to crest late Sunday at 22.8 feet, nearly 10 feet above flood stage, the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management reported.
Amtrak’s Heartland Flyer passenger rail system between Oklahoma City and Fort Worth was halted Sunday because of flooding in north Texas, and passengers were bussed instead, said Terry Angier, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Transportation.
In north Texas, hundreds of residents near the overflowing Wichita and Brazos rivers remained evacuated from their homes Sunday, uncertain of when they could return.
Some residents had been allowed to return Saturday, but hours later authorities encouraged them to seek higher ground as water released from flood gates on upstream dams moved downstream, said Shawn Scott, Parker County emergency management coordinator.
The Brazos River was expected to crest early Monday before falling below flood stage during the day, Parker County spokesman Joel Kertok said.
Wichita Falls officials had urged residents of low-lying areas to leave Friday and weren’t sure when they could return because of concerns about contaminants in the water, city spokesman Barry Levy said.