Missouri flood safety effort to be launched

JOPLIN, Mo. | Weather and emergency officials in Missouri, particularly the southwest part of the state, are launching an effort to raise awareness about flooding dangers.

Their concerns stem from the many water rescues that had to be done because of heavy rains in 2007 and 2008.

The National Weather Service in Springfield is working with emergency management officials from various counties to mount the flood safety campaign in March.

Kelsey Angle, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Springfield, said there were 1,200 reports of flooding in 2007 and 2008 in southwest Missouri and southeast Kansas.

There were dozens of area water rescues in 2008, but Angle said that the number is probably low because not all rescues are reported to the National Weather Service.

He said 14 water rescues were reported in Jasper County, four in Barry County, three in Lawrence County, two in McDonald County and one each in Vernon, Barton and Newton counties.

Greene County reported 51 water rescues in 2008, including 37 in Springfield that were all connected to one day of flooding on June 13, Angle said.

On the Kansas side, seven water rescues were reported in Crawford County and five in Cherokee County.

Compounding the problem is the fact that the region has hundreds of low-water crossings, Angle said. The National Weather Service issued hundreds of flood warnings in 2008, but he said "if the public does not understand and heed the warning, we are not meeting the needs of the communities we serve."

"That's why we are focusing this campaign on flood-safety awareness," Angle said.

He said most people don't realize that it takes only 2 feet to 2½ feet of water to float most vehicles.

Doug Cramer, who is also a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Springfield, told The Associated Press that six people died last year in southwest Missouri alone when crossing flooded roads in vehicles.

It is not known how many motorists took their chances driving through water last year but actually made it through. Angle believes that number might be high considering all the water rescues and fatalities.

Another National Weather Service meteorologist, Steve Runnels, said, "I shudder at the thought of how many might have tried before someone failed."