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Kansans welcome storm lull, but more rain and flooding anticipated

Flooding in Belle Plaine

Mike Hodges tries to salvage items in his garage where there was 4 inches of water. (video by Jaime Green/Sept. 9, 2016)
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Mike Hodges tries to salvage items in his garage where there was 4 inches of water. (video by Jaime Green/Sept. 9, 2016)

Mulvane firefighters shared pizza and enjoyed some down time at the city firehouse Friday afternoon, after a busy night of rescue calls caused by flooding and while anticipating another busy night to come.

By afternoon, the flash flooding that inundated parts of downtown Mulvane and low-lying homes in the area late Thursday and early Friday was receding.

But water from heavy rains in the area has lifted the Arkansas and Ninnescah rivers to well above flood stage. The National Weather Service in Wichita is forecasting record-breaking floodwaters on the Arkansas River near Mulvane.

K-53 was flooded on Friday morning south of downtown Mulvane. (video by Jaime Green/Sept. 9, 2016)

Additional heavy rains expected Friday night will mean more flooding because the streams and tributaries are already full, said Mulvane Fire Capt. Lowell Ester. They already know pretty much where the problems will be.

On Friday morning, his firefighters went out on 15 calls for people who called for help as the floodwaters rose around their car or house. On one call, they pulled a woman clinging to her nearly submerged car that had gone off the road.

Heavy rains

Flash floods struck Thursday night through Friday morning, causing problems in Mulvane, Derby, Clearwater and Haysville in Sedgwick County.

A slow-moving storm system brought heavy rains to Sedgwick County on Thursday night, Sept. 8, 2016, prompting flash flood warnings throughout south-central Kansas. (Travis Heying/The Wichita Eagle)

Record-setting rain and flash floods caused at least three school districts to close Friday and created power outages for some Westar Energy customers in Sedgwick County late Thursday and early Friday.

Westar continued to report widespread outages in the metro area at 5 p.m. Friday, with its latest projection for service restoration pushed back to 9 p.m.

Scott Smith, meteorologist at the National Weather Service of Wichita, said the forecast showed the Arkansas River would rise to 21 feet near Mulvane, which would break the record high of 20.9 feet in the 1998 flood.

Friday afternoon, he said the river level was around 16.5 feet and normally is between 8 and 10 feet.

Dan Pugh, Sedgwick County emergency management coordinator, said people affected by the floods should call 211 to report flood damage, request shelter for pets or ask questions about the flooding.

Pugh said United Way, the Methodist church and American Red Cross were aiding flood victims Friday afternoon.

He said Sedgwick County 911 received 22 submersion calls between 5 p.m. Thursday and 9 a.m. Friday and said that number had likely increased.

“Do not drive into flooded waters,” he said. “Turn around, don’t drown.”

Five house fires were started by lightning, county officials said, and 10 roads were closed due to flooding. There were 64 reports of flooding in the county.

The National Weather Service in Wichita reported measuring 8.9 inches of rain since midnight Friday near Derby and 6.82 inches of rain in about the past 24 hours as of Friday morning at Wichita Eisenhower National Airport.

A National Weather Service employee also reported measuring 10.19 inches of rain from Wednesday afternoon through Friday morning about four miles northwest of Clearwater.

“I’ve never seen so much rain, and I’ve lived here since ’75,” said Roger Ehmke, whose backyard backs up to Styx Creek, which flows through central Mulvane.

Officially, Wichita logged 3.46 inches of rain on Thursday and 3.46 inches early Friday morning, Smith said. The 3.46 inches on Friday shattered the record for most rain in the city on Sept. 9. The old mark was set in 1930.

Another 1 to 3 inches of rain could fall Friday night, Smith said, with even higher amounts likely south and east of the city.

Unpleasant shock

The flooding came as an unpleasant shock to many in the Mulvane area who are still cleaning up after even heavier flooding on Aug. 19 and 20.

Gov. Sam Brownback on Friday issued a disaster declaration request to the Small Business Administration in connection with the Sumner County flooding that weekend. An estimated 5 to 7 inches of rain fell in a few hours, leading to multiple water rescues, evacuation of homes and floodwaters entering homes and businesses.

On Friday, for the second time in less than a month, Givens Carpet Cleaning trucks sat outside Rick and Cathy Beverage’s house on 119th Street in Mulvane.

The trucks were there three weeks ago when the water rose out of the nearby creek, crossed the field into their yard and reached 3 feet high in their finished basement, soaking everything.

“I just finished drywalling the basement,” Rick Beverage said, his voice tinged with disgust.

Cris Hopper’s Salon Bella sits in the center of town, across Second Street from the city’s big painted sign that reads: “Welcome to Mulvane, City of the Valley.”

Never has that been more obvious. Her shop sits above Styx Creek, which quickly rose early Friday morning. She made her way through barricades at 6:30 a.m. to find about 2 inches of muddy water on the floor.

She had reopened her shop about two weeks ago after the last flood left 5 or 6 inches of water mixed with sewage on her floor, damaging her electric salon chairs.

Mulvane firefighters "walk" their trucks to rescue people in Sumner County near 700 E. 100th St. N. (Video by Jaime Green)

“It’s very hard to take a second time around,” she said.

She expects to reopen Saturday after cleaning Friday, but two floods in a month have left her rattled.

“I’m thinking about getting sandbags for the door.”

Butler County, elsewhere

Keri Korthals, assistant director of emergency management for Butler County, said overnight rainfall hit hardest in the southwest corner of Butler County.

She said the ground was so saturated in that area that runoff was pouring over fields into ditches.

“There’s places where you see rapids coming off of the fields into the creeks and ditches,” Korthals said. “There’s almost mini-waterfalls in places.”

Korthals said her office had not received reports of injuries or active water rescues Friday morning. But looking ahead to Friday evening and the forecast of more rain, she said she expected flash flooding to occur quickly.

“If people know there’s a low-lying area, just stay away,” she said. “Don’t even try it.”

Some campers who already had arrived for next week’s Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield were being relocated Friday from lower areas of the Winfield Fairgrounds because of the threat of flooding from the Walnut River.

Districts in Mulvane, Rose Hill and Clearwater closed school Friday because of the flooding. Butler Community College also canceled its classes in Rose Hill on Friday.

Gabriella Dunn: 316-268-6400, @gabriella_dunn

Tips during heavy rains

▪ Don’t drive into deep water. If you cannot see road markings, it’s too deep to drive into the water.

▪ Drive slow: Drive at least five seconds behind the car in front of you.

▪ Stay home: If you don’t have to go out in inclement weather, it’s best to stay home.

▪ Do not remove manhole covers in yards to drain water.

▪ Do not discharge sump pump water or pump any water into the sanitary sewer.

Source: Wichita Police Department

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