Southern Plains flooding pollutes water supplies


COFFEYVILLE, Kan. (AP) – An oil spill added to the misery caused by widespread flooding Monday as thousands of evacuees in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas waited for water to recede from their homes.

Kansas got a break from the weather Monday, but more rain was scattered over Texas and eastern Oklahoma, the latest in nearly two weeks of storms. It was the 20th straight day that rain had fallen in Oklahoma City.

“It’s such a dynamic situation,” said Parker County, Texas, spokesman Joel Kertok. “We get a break, and then it starts raining again.”

A pumping malfunction during the weekend allowed 42,000 gallons of crude oil to escape from the Coffeyville Resources refinery into the swollen Verdigris River in south-central Kansas, producing a floating slick that could be seen and smelled from the air.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency had teams on the scene, said Jim Miller, Montgomery County emergency manager. About a third of the homes in Coffeyville and a quarter of homes in Independence had been evacuated, he said, and water intakes for Coffeyville, Independence and Elk City had been shut down.

“Until the river starts receding, all we can do is monitor the situation,” Miller said.

“We’re very concerned,” said Coffeyville Mayor Virgin Horn, whose own home was submerged. “It’s chemicals mixed with water.”

The oil was floating downriver toward Oklahoma and that state’s Lake Oologah, said Maj. Gen. Tod Bunting, the Kansas state adjutant. The lake, about 30 miles northeast of Tulsa, provides flood control, drinking water and recreation.

Oklahoma officials were optimistic the spill would dissipate before it reached Oologah Lake.

“There are nine public water supplies along the Verdigris and the Oologah Lake, and none of them are currently affected,” said Skylar McElhaney, a spokeswoman for Oklahoma’s Department of Environmental Quality. Tulsa is among the cities that get water from Oologah.

The Verdigris River was more than 17 feet above flood stage at Independence at midday Monday and probably about 11 feet above flood stage at Coffeyville, said Janet Spurgeon, a National Weather Service hydrologist in Wichita. Forecasters don’t expect the river to fall below flood stage until early next week, she said.

Elsewhere in Kansas, residents of Osawatomie were waiting for Pottawatomie Creek and the Marais des Cygnes River to recede. Forty percent of its 4,600 residents evacuated the city Sunday.

Emergency officials in northeast Oklahoma estimated 2,500 to 3,000 people were forced from their homes during the weekend around Bartlesville and Dewey because of flooding from the Caney River, said Kary Cox, Washington’s County’s emergency management director. The evacuees in Dewey included 58 nursing home residents, said Fire Chief Tom Smith.

The Caney was more than 8 feet above its 13-foot flood stage Monday, the weather service reported.

The Neosho River in northeast Oklahoma was at 22 feet on Monday morning, 7 feet above flood stage, and was expected to crest Tuesday at 28 feet, forcing people out of Miami and Commerce. “At 28 feet, there is very widespread flooding,” said Bart Haake, a weather service meteorologist.

Hundreds of people in northern Texas were still unable to return to their homes near the Wichita and Brazos rivers because of flooding, power failures or fears of contaminated water.

In southwestern Missouri, flooding on the Marais des Cygnes has destroyed at least six homes near the community of Virginia.

Eleven deaths have been blamed on the storms and flooding in Texas, where two men are missing.