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Flash floods force people from homes, close schools and highways in central Kansas

Aerial views of the widespread flooding in south-central Kansas

Drone video of floodwaters in Sumner, Cowley and Butler counties. (May 8, 2019)
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Drone video of floodwaters in Sumner, Cowley and Butler counties. (May 8, 2019)

People were evacuated from their homes and schools were closed or delayed Wednesday after Kansas was hit with back-to-back thunderstorms.

The Kansas Turnpike was also closed south of Wellington to the Oklahoma border Wednesday morning after Slate Creek crested the 100-year flood mark. More rain is expected to hit the area this week and it’s unclear when the state’s primary route to Oklahoma and Texas will reopen.

Slate Creek, a tributary of the Arkansas River, was flowing over the Turnpike between the Wellington and South Haven exits. The creek was at its peak of 25.7 feet around 3 a.m., according to preliminary data from the United States Geological Survey. It had a flow of 22,800 cubic feet per second.

The only time Slate Creek ran higher and harder was June 17, 1975, according to records dating back to 1960. The peak in 1975 was 25.82 feet and 28,500 cubit feet per second, Chief of Hydraulic Data Section of the USGS Craig Painter said.

Rachel Bell, director of business services and customer relations for the Kansas Turnpike Authority, said Wednesday afternoon that the agency was unsure when the highway would re-open. After the water goes down, KTA will assess any damage to the roadway caused by the flooding, she said.

As far as detours go, Bell said: “it’s hard at this point because we’ve had so much rain in such a large area. It’s hard to specify that there should be one detour.”

During a 24-hour period between Tuesday and Wednesday morning, some areas near Wichita reported receiving up to 10 inches of rain.

Evacuations started in the Wichita area early Wednesday. The Weather Channel reported that evacuations were ongoing in parts of Peabody and Wellington before 6 a.m. Peabody is in Marion County, about 40 miles north of Wichita. Wellington is in Sumner County, about 35 miles south of Wichita.

Sedgwick County’s emergency workers were out in force Tuesday night dealing with widespread and dangerous flooding — and preparing for the next round expected to start Wednesday night.

“We did have most of our field personnel out all night,” barricading flooded roads, said county Public Works Director David Spears.

“The hardest-hit areas were around Andale and then also down around Mulvane and Derby,” he said. “Greenwich Road between 111th and 119th, parts of it were underwater by five feet, so it’s a serious situation out there. This is not just a little bit of water over the road, it’s a lot.”



Mulvane Fire Department reported nine cars flooded out overnight.

Mulvane and county personnel teamed up on a swift-water rescue of a motorist who drove into running water and was swept 200 yards downstream before her car was stopped by a tree.

The Kansas Department of Transportation closed down one lane of Highway 55 west of Belle Plaine because of high water on the road. (May 8, 2019)

“I’m thankful to say that person was rescued successfully,” said Cody Charvat of Sedgwick County Emergency Management.

“Mulvane indicated that they do have some residents surrounded by water and so they’re walking in or boating in to assist them but nothing that’s life threatening at this point,” Charvat said.

Butler County, east of Sedgwick County, was placed under a Flash Flood Emergency designation late Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning, said Keri Korthals of Butler County Emergency Management. That’s the highest level of flash flood warning by the National Weather Service.

Korthals said some rain gauges in Butler County collected over 8 inches of rain Tuesday night. She said no one to her knowledge had needed rescued from their homes, but notifications were sent out that people might get trapped by flooding.

Korthals said much of the flash flooding in the county was receding by 10:30 a.m. Wednesday. But officials were closely monitoring the rivers and streams, especially the Whitewater River near Augusta.

“We’ve got to watch the river because we’re running out of places for it to go,” Korthals said.

After multiple days of heavy rain, she said the grounds are “completely saturated.”

Flash flooding in Augusta and Rose Hill, both east of Wichita in Butler County, forced road and school closures.

Schools that are closed Wednesday include Augusta USD 402, Belle Plaine USD 357, Bluestem USD 205, Chase County USD 284, Clearwater USD 264, Douglass Public Schools USD 396, Mulvane USD 263, Oxford USD 358, Rose Hill USD 394, South Haven USD 509, Wellington USD 353.

With more heavy rain forecast Thursday, officials were bracing for what could be a long weekend of flooding.

“We’ll leave the barricades out and if the prediction of more rain is right, we’ll be out all night again tonight and maybe barricading more roads,” Spears said.

Flood warnings remain in effect in Sedgwick County through Thursday night, including the Cowskin Creek in west Wichita, the Ninnescah River near Peck.

The Arkansas River has a flood warning until this weekend throughout Sedgwick County.

Sections of major highways throughout the state were closed Wednesday. US-50 from Florence in Marion County to Highway 150, just south of Elmdale in Chase County, is expected to be closed through Friday because of flooding, according to KanDrive, which monitors road conditions in the state.

US 77 south of US 54 in Augusta was closed to Douglass. US-81 was closed through Wellington.

Highway 177 from Strong City to Cotton Wood Falls in Chase Count was closed due to water over the road. Highway 99 north of Emporia to the Kansas Turnpike was closed Wednesday morning.

The Turnpike was closed south of Mulvane because of high waters on the roadway at 11:51 p.m. Tuesday. Mulvane to Wellington was opened to traffic at 4:45 a.m. Wednesday.

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