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More rain coming on top of flood warnings; one drowning near Iola attributed to high water

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, August 5, 2013, at 1:25 p.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013, at 2:53 p.m.

Dangerous storms swept over central Kansas again Monday night, bringing 80 mph winds, quarter-sized hail, downed power lines and another round of torrential rains.

The cities of Cullison, Pratt and Iuka were reporting numerous power outages late Monday night. Trees were blown over on U.S. 54 in Pratt County.

“Trees with 10- to 24-inch round trucks were blown over,” said Tim Branscom, Pratt County emergency manager. “We’ve got crews out right now looking for damages.”

An inch of rain fell in less than an hour in Pratt, he said.

Flash flood warnings were issued for Reno and Harvey counties, where an inch of rain was reported by 9:30 Monday night, and another 2 to 3 inches was expected over low-land areas that were already flooded from recent rains.

“This is mostly wind and heavy rain,” said a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Wichita.

Lon Buller, Harvey County’s emergency management director, knew that wasn’t what his sopping wet county needed.

“We need a good week of hardly any rain so we can get this all drained down,” Buller said Monday morning.

Not likely to happen.

After a weekend that saw at least one person drown and two others rescued in three separate incidents across the state, forecasts called for heavy rain Monday night for the area, with the worst expected Wednesday.

That should worsen conditions for much of south-central, central and southeast Kansas, where 21 counties – including Sedgwick, Cowley, Harvey and Butler – are under a flood warning.

“We really stay in this (rain) pattern throughout the week and into the weekend,” said Robb Lawson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Wichita. “Most of the chances are at night. There’s a more substantial front coming down Wednesday night.”

Wichita already has been soaked by 5.71 inches of rain through the first four days of August. Hutchinson received more than 6 inches, much of it coming down in a short period overnight Saturday.

“Hutchinson was ground zero for the heavy rain,” Lawson said.

The Big Ditch and Arkansas River in Wichita were filling up from all the rain over the weekend, although a limited number of roads remained closed Monday afternoon.

High water closed Ridge Road from 109th Street North to 125th Street North, according to the Sedgwick County emergency management report. Also closed was 13th Street between 119th Street West and 135th Street West.

Authorities warned drivers not to drive around barricades, noting that most cars float and are swept away by 18 to 24 inches of water.

In southeast Kansas, the body of Zone Forbis-Burgardt, 23, was recovered Sunday morning after he became separated from friends Saturday afternoon while on innertubes near the South Buckeye Dam in Iola, Allen County authorities said. Rescue teams found his body in a brush area west of the dam.

In Reno County, Kenzy Strawn, 18, was pulled from her water-filled pickup by Reno County sheriff’s Deputy Travis Vogt after her truck was swept away about midnight Sunday six miles west of Hutchinson, according to the sheriff’s office. Strawn used her cellphone to call her sister, who called 911.

The pickup was swept from one corner of a section of land to the opposite corner before it finally stopped in a ditch. Water was up to the seat when Vogt waded in and removed Strawn, the report said. She declined medical treatment.

Reno County Sheriff Randy Henderson said people should call 911 instead of family members. Besides getting the most accurate information from a direct call, Henderson said, authorities can use technology to locate where a cellphone call came from.

Earlier Sunday in Wamego, about 15 miles east of Manhattan, Kayla Hardie, 9, was pulled from the Kansas River’s fast-rushing water. She was sitting on the river bank about 3 p.m., dangling her feet in the water, when she fell into the river, Wamego police Chief Mike Baker said.

Her 17-year-old sister, Aerial Hardie, jumped into the river to help her, but they were both swept downstream before clinging to a tree branch. Aerial managed to get out and go for help, Baker said.

Meanwhile, Michael Connolly tried to help by throwing Kayla a rope, but the effort failed. Wamego police Officer Derek Gray arrived, jumped in the water and swam about 25 feet to the girl, Baker said.

Connolly and other officers threw Gray and the girl a flotation device, and they were pulled to safety.

The incident points to how dangerous even dipping feet in a swollen creek or river can be, Baker said.

“When water is moving swiftly,” he said, “you shouldn’t be playing in water. There’s also a lot of debris in the river. Pesticides from fields have been washed into the river. It’s just not safe.”

Both girls were treated at the scene by emergency medical services and released, Baker said.

‘Unique sinkhole’

Rain was thought to be the cause of a sinkhole that developed in the 1100 block of East 11th Street in Hutchinson.

“It’s pretty impressive,” Hutchinson police Lt. Thad Pickard said. “Most sinkholes are round. This one was more like a long cut. It was a unique sinkhole.”

All the other streets in Hutchinson were open, said Bill Guy, Reno County’s emergency management director.

“But we have a ton of roads in the county that are closed,” he said. “The whole Cow Creek is flooded. The Big Ark and Little Ark are coming up.

“We’re concerned for a lot of people.”

Western portions of Harvey County saw up to 5 inches over the weekend. That’s also the area that has a number of roads closed, Buller said.

About two miles south of the city of Lyons, K-14 remained closed Monday because of flooding. Cow Creek remained high in Rice County and was flooding in areas, according to state emergency management officials

As of Monday afternoon, the Kansas Red Cross had provided shelter, supplies and clean-up kits to flood victims in Lindsborg, Hutchinson, Ellinwood and Pittsburg, a spokeswoman for the organization said.

Two churches in Hutchinson provided shelter to 25 people, state officials said. Two Hutchinson care facilities also had to be vacated.

Cheney Reservoir

On the good news side of the rain, Cheney Reservoir’s conservation pool – where Wichita gets 40 percent of its water – had reached nearly 88 percent of capacity by midafternoon Monday. That’s about 15 percentage points more than the pool was at in early June and far more than its 58 percent full in February, when the effects of the drought were the most severe.

The pool was expected to continue to fill throughout the week, not only from rain but from rainwater draining into the lake from the area’s watershed.

Alan King, director of Wichita’s public works and utilities, said if the pool level reaches more than 90 percent, he may consider asking the City Council to switch Cheney’s load of providing water to the city back to 60 percent.

In June, the council had granted his request to flip-flop the loads between Cheney and the Equus Beds aquifer, the city’s other main source of water. At the time, the city was getting 40 percent of its water from the aquifer, but that was bumped up to 60 percent with the change.

There aren’t any official rain amounts for the Cheney watershed area, but Wichita has received 15.23 inches of rain since June 1, the weather service said.

Contributing: Beccy Tanner of The Eagle

Reach Rick Plumlee at 316-268-6660 or rplumlee@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @rickplumlee.

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