Bracing for the worst
Mike Epperson clears belongings from his storage unit on South State Street Tuesday.
With forecasts for more rain likely, Iolans continue to brace for what could be the city’s worst flooding since 2007.
Residents worked feverishly late into the night Tuesday to evacuate homes and businesses in south Iola following the city’s recommendation earlier in the day.
A torrential downpour early Tuesday brought more than 4 inches of rain to Iola, exacerbating conditions along the Neosho, which already was above flood stage.
By late Tuesday afternoon, forecasters said the river could reach a nearly historic height of 31 feet — a level unseen since the 1951 flood — or 16 feet above flood stage.
Floodwater fills the baseball and softball diamonds at Iola's Riverside Park Tuesday.
Forecasters eventually rolled back those numbers, to an expected crest of about 27.8 feet by Thursday morning.
As of 7 a.m. today, the river’s height was at 20 feet in Iola, down a tad from Tuesday evening, but those numbers will likely change through the day. Flood stage is 15 feet. The Neosho is out of its banks with water extending to Iola city limits.
“We know the river is going to rise more,” Allen County Sheriff Bryan Murphy said. “We just don’t know when or how fast.”
That’s because another round of thunderstorms is expected to hit eastern Kansas today, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is continuing to open the gates at John Redmond Reservoir, which feeds the Neosho.
The release throughout the day will cause flood-prone areas to fill up and become impassable, the Coffey County Emergency Management Agency warned.
Local and county officials continue to advise those in flood-prone areas to evacuate their homes and take important belongings with them.
In Woodson County, sheriff’s deputies went door-to-door in Neosho Falls, encouraging residents to leave their homes.
Elm Creek rose above the disc golf course and King of Trails pedestrian bridge along South Washington Avenue in Iola.
The Red Cross has opened a shelter in Iola at the Allen County Community College student activity center for residents needing somewhere to go. The shelter’s operations were suspended, Murphy said, but emergency officials are prepared to reopen the facility if necessary.
Seven residents stayed at the shelter overnight.
Iola officials also warned that the rising Neosho could force them to shut down the city’s water treatment plant, encouraging residents to stock up and conserve water. The plant will shut down if the river reaches a height of about 26 feet, said Assistant City Administrator Corey Schinstock.
(For comparison’s sake, the Neosho’s level in the 2007 flood was about 27 feet; the river peaked at 33 feet in the 1951 flood.)
An unidentified motorist fishes from the comfort of his vehicle along the flooded Neosho River near Iola this morning. PHOTO COURTESY OF PAIGE OLSON
MOTHER NATURE’S relentless onslaught will continue to have a say in just how bad things will get.
The National Weather Service said thunderstorms are expected to redevelop across southeast Kansas this afternoon, and continue throughout the day with hail and high wind possible. The greatest threat remains heavy rainfall.
And forecasts call for a 50 percent chance or better of rain and thunderstorms through Sunday, with additional chances through next Thursday.