Archive for Wednesday, October 5, 2005

A 100-year flood strikes again

October 5, 2005

Though rains didn't inundate southern Leavenworth County, floodwaters did.

Early Sunday morning, emergency workers evacuated 44 residents from a nursing home in Easton. By later Sunday morning, the torrent that struck northern Leavenworth County began to affect the southern portion of the county, with swollen Stranger Creek rising out of its banks and, in some areas, covering roads.

Ken Bronis, a hydrometeorlogical technician with the National Weather Service in Pleasant Hill, Mo., said the weekend storm that stalled over the Easton area dumped 8.75 inches of rain. Oskaloosa, in Jefferson County, topped that with reports of 9.8 inches.

The farther south, the less rain fell. According to Bronis, Leavenworth received 2.31 inches and to the south of Tonganoxie rain gauges measured barely a half-inch.

About 11 a.m. Sunday, drivers on County Road 9 maneuvered through water southeast of Jarbalo, shooting rooster tails of water into the air. One of the drivers said that two hours earlier the road had been dry. By noon, as the water continued to rise, the county closed the road. Nearby, Dempsey Road just east of County Road 9 was already closed. Mike McGraw, who's lived and farmed in the area all his life, said he'd never seen the water higher than it was Sunday morning.

About noon Sunday, Leavenworth County's Fire District No.1 and the county's water rescue unit converged north of Jarbalo on McIntyre Road for a possible water rescue.

Rick Huhn, fire chief, said a man lived in a two-story house near Stranger Creek. Huhn said he'd been told that when the water rose around the house, the man went to the second floor.

Water rescue member Dan Tallman prepared to ride a jet ski to the house to ask the resident if he needed help. But when a Kansas Highway Patrol helicopter circled the farmstead, troopers said there was no sign that the man was in distress or needed assistance. So rescue workers decided against going in.

"He talked to a friend of his who called him this morning, and he said he didn't want to leave," Huhn said. "He said he's fine and he didn't want to leave. We can't make him -- like the people in New Orleans."

Taking stock

Late Monday morning, Jeff Barnard may have looked as if he was floating a toy boat off of the Stranger Creek bridge on U.S. Highway 24-40.

But Barnard, of the U.S. Geological Survey, Lawrence, was measuring floodwaters.

The boat-like structure, about four feet by two feet, was an acoustic Doppler current profiler, said Brian Loving, of the USGS.

"It's a sonar that measures water depth and speed," Loving said. "We do some math with that and come up with the volume of water that's coming down the river."

Barnard said that at the highway bridge, the water crested about 10:30 p.m. Sunday. The discharge, Barnard said, measured at 35,600 cubic feet per second. He said the most recent flood, in June 2001, measured at 40,000 cfs. And, current 100-year flood peak -- the measurement that statistically has a 1 percent probability of occurring in any given year -- is 32,900 cfs.

USGS has been taking measurements at the Stranger Creek 24-40 site since 1929.

"This is the second-highest peak since 1929," Loving said. "Statistically, these are 100-year events and you've had two -- after at least 75 years without one and then two in the last four years."

Schools canceled

Jefferson County students received an unexpected day off on Monday, following the weekend's heavy rains.

"Schools in all six of the school districts were cancelled yesterday (Sunday) in order to give us the opportunity to go around and make sure that the structures on the roads that we have open were safe -- make sure there wasn't any erosion," said George Pogge, Jefferson County's road superintendent.

The rain, which fell fast and furious, created a runoff problem that most of the county's drainage areas and drainage channels couldn't handle, Pogge said.

"The water was moving very swiftly," Pogge said. "It tends to take out the approaches to bridges. It gets back in behind the wing walls that keep the shoulders of the roads from eroding down into the creekbeds."

And in some places, the fast-moving floodwaters eroded the road off the top of culverts.

"We'll have most of the damage repaired probably in the next two to three weeks," Pogge said. "But we have some significant problems with a couple of our bridges that are probably going to take a lot longer to be repaired."

Sunday roadblocks

In the quiet little town of Jarbalo Sunday morning, things were anything but normal.

Alice Purvis, pastor of the Jarbalo Methodist church, experienced minor pangs of flooding herself. She preaches two services, one at the Fairmount church north of Basehor, the other in Jarbalo.

"I go to Fairmount first," Purvis said. "By the time I came back I had to take a different route because the water had come up over part of Fairmount Road and of course County Road 8 was under water by then."

Floodwaters caused Monday drivers to go miles out of their way as well.

Beth Hecht, who lives south of Springdale, works in Leavenworth.

"I dropped my kids off at Springdale," Hecht said. "There were five different ways to go (to Leavenworth). On my sixth way I finally got through."

Hecht said Kansas Highway 92, the unpaved 4-H Road, and county roads 10, 8 and 5 were closed. So she went out of her way, driving to U.S. Highway 24-40 and then to Leavenworth. By the end of the day, Hecht was taking it all in stride.

"There's nothing like going south to go north," she said, chuckling.

Bridge OK

Despite the torrents of flood water, the new Linwood Stranger Creek bridge is unharmed.

Ken Johnson, vice president of BRB Contractors, Topeka, made a drive to Tonganoxie on Sunday to check out the situation.

"It's going to cause us some fits, but at least we were not working on the structure next to the river; all that work's done," Johnson said. "It could have hit us at a bad time and now is about as good as any."

Last Thursday, the bridge was closed as workers poured the cement on the second half of the deck. The bridge reopened to one lane of traffic Tuesday and construction should be finished by early November.

Johnson said the flooding might hamper work scheduled for this week.

"We plan to pour some concrete with cranes down below tomorrow and Thursday," Johnson said Tuesday. "I don't know how we're going to do that now. That water is usually about 120 feet wide, it's well over 200 feet wide now."

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