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High waters could cause old bridge to collapse, officials fear

Butler County officials are monitoring an old railroad bridge west of Augusta, concerned that floodwaters may trigger a collapse that could prove damaging downstream.

The abandoned railroad bridge is about 200 yards upstream from the bridge that carries Thunder Road — known as 47th Street South in Sedgwick County — over the Walnut River and north into Augusta.

"After the last big flood, it took out most of the west-side supports" for the abandoned bridge, Butler County Emergency Management director Jim Schmidt said.

"The big concern is if the old bridge were to fall and be carried downstream, the sheer mass might take out that other bridge."

The Walnut was receding next to Augusta on Wednesday afternoon, "which is a good sign," Schmidt said.

But concerns about flooding along the Walnut farther south in Cowley County prompted officials for the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield to delay the annual "land rush" from Thursday to Saturday.

The land rush is when early arrivers are permitted onto the campgrounds to set up their sites for next weekend's festival.

The Walnut is expected to crest in Winfield on Thursday at 21.4 feet, which meteorologist Brad Ketcham described as "moderate flooding."

But that's 4 1/2 feet lower than earlier forecasts, and Cowley County Emergency Management Director Brian Stone was beaming this morning.

"That's the best news so far today," Stone said.

Festival officials sent an e-mail announcing the postponement of the land rush early this morning.

At forecast flooding levels, water will cover a small part of the west campground and the pecan grove, festival president Bob Redford said.

"We are told by Cowley County Emergency Operations Center that the bottom of the concrete slab in front of Stage 3 is where the river will top out," Redford said in the letter. "The river will come up fast and go down just as fast!"

About 550 units are already in the fairgrounds, he said, and they should not be threatened by floodwaters.

In Sedgwick County, the Cowskin Creek in west Wichita was at 19.6 feet at 8 a.m., but Ketcham said it was beginning to drop with no significant flooding reported.

John Crosby, deputy director of Sedgwick County Emergency Management, said he had no "big concerns" as noon approached.

But he was keeping an eye on the forecast.

"Whenever they talk about continuing showers _ when we've had that much _ it is always a concern for me," Crosby said.

Wichita recorded 3.83 inches of rain on Tuesday, a record for Sept. 8 in the city.

Check Kansas.com for updates.

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