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Rescues abound in Wichita area after rains, flooding

Heavy rains bring flooding to south 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)
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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)

Torrential rains, falling at rates of up to 5 inches an hour, pounded the Wichita metropolitan area again Friday night.

Street flooding was reported throughout Wichita and surrounding cities, with numerous vehicles becoming stranded in high water. Numerous police scanner accounts of welfare checks and water rescues in the area were also heard Saturday morning.

Prodigious lightning accompanied the heavy rain, prompting numerous delays in outdoor sporting events across the metropolitan area. More than a dozen area football games were postponed until Saturday, and a couple of others delayed resumption until Monday.

“The problem is, some areas got upwards of 9 inches of rain last night,” National Weather Service meteorologist Eric Metzger said. “The rivers are still dealing with that. When you get another 1 to 4 inches on top of that, it had nowhere to go.

“That’s why areas that normally don’t flood did flood this time. It’s like a traffic jam running up on a traffic jam.”

The weather service office next to Eisenhower National Airport logged 5.36 inches of rain on Friday as of 10:30 p.m., which was a record for Sept. 9. That shattered the previous record of 2.99 inches set back in 1930.

Metzger said 1.8 inches of that total fell after 4 p.m. Friday, though much higher totals were being reported elsewhere in the city and metropolitan area.

“It moved slower than we expected,” National Weather Service meteorologist Mick McGuire said of the line of storms that slashed diagonally across the state, stretching from the Texas Panhandle up into Missouri.

That creeping pace allowed the rainfall amounts to accumulate rapidly in an already saturated area.

One vehicle went over a bridge on Harry near Rock Road, flipping upside down with two people in it shortly after 9 p.m., officials reported, but firefighters were able to rescue them. Crews needed a boat to pull one person from a car at Second and Bleckley.

Just before 9:30 p.m., county officials reported there had been 43 reports of vehicles becoming stranded in high water and 25 reports of flooded roadways called in.

The rain was so heavy — with rates of between 3 and 5 inches an hour, according to the weather service — that authorities pleaded with residents via social media to stay off the streets for their own safety.

“I cannot state this enough. It is DANGEROUS to be on the road in the Wichita area right now. Stay in place and allow flooding to recede,” Wichita police tweeted shortly before 9 p.m. Friday.

Flash flood warnings are in effect until 2:45 a.m. Saturday for Sedgwick County, until 3 a.m. Saturday for Butler County, until 3:15 a.m. for Harper County and until 3:45 a.m. in Greenwood County.

Sedgwick County officials tweeted Friday night that anyone needing sandbags can get them at 4701 S. West St., Building C, from 8 a.m. to noon on Saturday.

One strong thunderstorm camped over Clearwater for an extended time Friday night, dumping more rain on an area that logged as much as 10 inches the night before.

In Mulvane, where some residents were coping with the second flood in less than a month, emergency responders were planning to patrol the streets after the rains eased Friday night to look for trouble spots.

While conditions weren’t too bad at about 9 p.m. Friday, “the 3 to 5 inches that fell north of us is going to be a problem,” Mulvane fire Lt. Jason Mundell said.

All that runoff is going to surge downstream toward Mulvane, he said, because everything is already saturated.

Heavy rain was widespread across Butler County as well, and downstream all of the people already camped out at the Cowley County fairgrounds for next weekend’s Walnut Valley Festival were evacuated as a precaution.

Stan Finger: 316-268-6437, @StanFinger

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