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Disaster declaration in Hutchinson, Reno County as heavy rains trigger flooding

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Sunday, August 4, 2013, at 9:38 a.m.
  • Updated Sunday, Oct. 20, 2013, at 11:56 a.m.

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Evacuations were underway in towns across central Kansas on Sunday as heavy overnight rains prompted flooding across the region, officials said.

Reno County declared a local disaster late Sunday afternoon because of flooded streets in Hutchinson and water-covered roads around the county.

“We encourage you to limit travel as much as possible to essential trips,” Reno County Emergency Management director Bill Guy said in a prepared statement.

About 150 residents at Elm Grove Estates in northwest Hutchinson were evacuated because water was coming into the building, said Todd Strain, emergency management specialist for Reno County. The residents were taken to Hutchinson Regional Medical Facility or to Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in south Hutchinson, depending on the level of care they needed.

“They had water in the facility,” Strain said of the nursing home.

The Dillon Living Center in Hutchinson was also evacuated Sunday morning and residents taken to the local hospital.

The evacuation was prompted “not so much from flooding but water in the building,” perhaps from intense localized rain, Strain said.

“We can’t leave those folks in a nursing home with water on the floors.”

EMS personnel from Kansas MERGe – which stands for Medical Emergency Response Group – assisted with evacuating the residents of Dillon and Elm Grove, Strain said. More than a dozen ambulances came from surrounding counties for the rescue effort.

Among the counties to assist were Butler, Harvey, McPherson, Rice and Sedgwick, Kansas Division of Emergency Management spokeswoman Sharon Watson said. About 20 people were staying at the shelter on Sunday morning, she said.

A second shelter at Trinity United Methodist Church, 17th and Main, was opened for displaced residents, Guy said.

High water closed several roads around rural Reno County, Strain said, including near Buhler and Haven.

Reno County officials were urging people not to play in the floodwaters because septic and sewer systems have backed up and deposited waste materials into the water. There has also been “considerable” amount of run-off from fields that have had chemicals applied to crops. Those chemicals are now in the rivers, creeks and floodwaters.

Flooding was also reported elsewhere in central Kansas.

City officials in Ellinwood in Barton County was reporting street flooding downtown. More than 6 inches of rain was reported overnight in Barton County, according to the National Weather Service.

Ellinwood residents were being provided sandbags by the county. Street flooding was reported elsewhere in the county at Great Bend, Claflin and Hoisington.

In Rice County, officials were discouraging travel because of widespread flooding, Watson said. Emergency management officials were going door to door along Cow Creek urging residents to evacuate because the creek had risen 7 feet since 6 a.m. Sunday.

A shelter for displaced residents has been set up at Celebration Center of Rice County in Lyons. Roads around the county are closed because of high water, and street flooding has been reported in Lyons, Sterling and Bushton.

As the runoff swells Cow Creek, Strain said, residents downstream in rural Reno County between Nickerson and Hutchinson were being told to stay alert.

“There’s a lot more coming down,” Strain said of runoff. “It’s still coming.”

Much of the Wichita metropolitan area is under a flood warning following heavy rains Saturday night and Sunday morning.

More than 5 inches of rain had fallen in Hutchinson by 9 a.m. Sunday, prompting a flash flood warning to be issued. Nickerson had at least 7 inches overnight, according to the National Weather Service.

Portions of northern Reno County and southern Rice County received more than 6 inches of rain. Part of the deluge fell in the drainage basin for Cheney Lake, and the lake level had climbed to nearly 82 percent full as of Sunday night. That’s up 6 percentage points since Friday alone.

“Before, when we were getting an inch or two, it was going into the grass and the trees,” said Scott Smith, a meteorologist with the Wichita branch of the weather service. “Now that everything is so saturated, everything is going to right into the rivers and right into the lake.”

Wichita had recorded 3.44 inches of rain between 10 p.m. Saturday and 7 p.m. Sunday, according to the National Weather Service.

“That’s a lot of rain,” said Suzanne Fortin, meteorologist in charge of the Wichita branch of the weather service.

The Arkansas River “is basically going to be in flood from Hutchinson downstream,” she added. “This is going to be one of the more significant floods we’ve had in a long time” in the region.

Strain said Reno County residents talked of not having seen this kind of flooding since 2007.

The Little Arkansas River at Alta Mills in Harvey County reached 22.7 feet at 8:15 a.m., which is above the flood stage mark set at 22 feet. It was expected to rise to near 25 feet by early Monday afternoon.

Sedgwick County was under a flood warning until 6 p.m. Sunday.

The Big Ditch – as the Wichita-Valley Center Floodway is known locally – should protect Wichita from river flooding, Fortin said.

An additional flood warning was issued Sunday morning for the Arkansas River near Derby and Mulvane, as it was expected to reach flood stage by late Monday morning and continue to rise through Tuesday afternoon.

Residents of Derby, Mulvane, Oxford and Wellington should all pay close attention to river levels over the next couple of days, Fortin said.

A flood warning is in effect until Wednesday afternoon for the Arkansas near Mulvane. Flooding of farmland near the river is expected, according to the National Weather Service.

Another flood warning is in effect for the Little Arkansas near Sedgwick until Tuesday afternoon. Flooding of farm fields and roads near Ridge Road and 109th Street North are expected.

A flood warning for the Arkansas near Derby is in effect from Monday morning until Tuesday night. Floodwaters are expected to breach the west bank of the river but not cause noteworthy damage.

Reach Stan Finger at 316-268-6437 or sfinger@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @StanFinger.

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