Rising floodwaters lead to state highway closing

TOPEKA — Rising waters along the Missouri River forced Kansas officials to close a portion of a state highway in northeast Kansas as communities began to voluntarily evacuate their homes.

The Kansas Division of Emergency Management said Tuesday that K-7 north of Sparks in Doniphan County to the Nebraska border was closed. High water over the roadway was expected to keep the highway closed for several days.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon on Tuesday sent a request to President Obama to declare a federal emergency because of the flooding, which has seen several communities in Andrew, Atchison, Buchanan, Hold and Platte counties evacuate residents. The water has forced the closing of portions of I-29 and U.S. 136 and 159.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback made a similar request Friday for Atchison, Doniphan, Leavenworth and Wyandotte counties.

The Missouri River has been rising for weeks because of heavy rains and snowmelt along the river's headwaters, forcing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to open floodgates and sending water downstream at 160,000 cubic feet a second.

On Monday, residents of Elwood and Wathena in Doniphan County began leaving their homes in potential flood areas. Kansas officials were urging residents to heed the warning and get to higher ground. The Kansas Highway Patrol began assisting Elwood police Tuesday with law enforcement in the town.

"Floodwaters can be deceptive. It only takes 18 inches of water to float a car," said Angee Morgan, deputy director of the Division of Emergency Management.

The Kansas National Guard has placed about 200 soldiers on standby to assist with Doniphan County evacuations if the Missouri River reaches 28 feet and continues to rise.

Ten soldiers and two vehicles have been patrolling levees in Doniphan County since early June, and 24 more were sent there Tuesday to augment security patrols and help with evacuations as needed.

Maj. Gen. Lee Tafanelli, the state's emergency management director, said the additional troops were requested by county officials and the mayor of Elwood. The town of 1,200 people sits on the flood plain across the river from St. Joseph, Mo., and many residents remember water rising several feet high in houses and other buildings during the flood of 1993.

Also Monday, the Missouri Department of Transportation closed a bridge over the Missouri River leading to Atchison. A small segment of highway near Winthrop, Mo., was closed Monday night.

Roadblocks have been set up to notify drivers several miles away that they can't get across the Amelia Earhart Memorial Bridge leading into Atchison. The only other river crossings open are the U.S. 36 bridge in St. Joseph, Mo., and the Centennial Bridge/K-92 crossing in Leavenworth.

A significant breach of an agricultural levee north of U.S. 59 Monday afternoon caused water to rush into farmland and onto the highway.

Kansas and Missouri transportation agencies have posted updates on road conditions and closures on their websites ahead of the July Fourth holiday weekend to alert motorists.