The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

July 30, 2013

Storm swamps Crawford County fairgrounds, causes other problems in Southeast Kansas

GIRARD, Kan. — Crawford County farmer Rodney Mein has been hoping for rain for most of July.

“We might have been hoping a little too hard,” he joked Tuesday as he and family members tried to dry out one of an estimated 20 campers that were flooded late Monday and early Tuesday at the Crawford County Fairgrounds near Girard.

“In 35 years, I’ve never seen anything like it.”

The fair is set to open today, and many families already had set up campers in anticipation of spending several days there. In just a few hours, the area received between 4 and 8 inches of rainfall, according to the National Weather Service in Springfield, Mo., resulting in Cow Creek and its tributaries rising several feet.

“It is quite a mess,” said Nelle Lehman, who works for the K-State Research and Extension Office and has been at the fairgrounds the past three years.

The last two summers at the Crawford County Fair have seen extreme drought and triple-digit temperatures. This year, the flooding not only stranded campers and left thousands of dollars of damage in its wake, it forced the cancellation of at least one major event. The Open Class Horse Show was scheduled for Tuesday afternoon, but the fair board canceled the show to ensure the safety of the horses and the children in what had become a mud-filled arena.

“Right now, everyone is just focused on trying to help people as much as we can,” Lehman said.

Until late morning Tuesday, the fairgrounds west of the Marvin Green Education Building were under 2 1/2 to 3 feet of water.

“It came up very quickly last night,” said Kari West, a fair board volunteer. “People started moving their campers in the wee hours, but some didn’t get it in time because it was too fast.”

Water also came up quickly in Pittsburg, where a police officer rescued a motorist in danger of drowning.

Police Chief Mendy Hulvey said patrol Officer Pamela Roberts was attending to a motorist’s stalled car at the intersection of 15th and Walnut streets.

“Officer Roberts had her lights on, and her goal was to stop motorists from going into what had become very dangerous waters,” Hulvey said. “A few seconds later, a car went around her, and the car immediately began to sink and turn sideways.”

The motorist, for whom Hulvey did not have a name, was able to get her window down and yell for help. Within seconds, the car began to turn over in the water to the point Roberts thought it would roll over.

“She quickly removed her gun belt and dove into the water, which by then was over her head, and managed to get to the car, pull the young woman out and get her to higher ground,” Hulvey said. “We’re very proud of her.”

Hulvey said the department lost power in the thunderstorm that accompanied the rain, and radio communications were cut.

“We had to revert to old walkie-talkies, and there were so many storm-related calls coming in it was unbelievable,” she said. “There was a gentleman trapped in a basement that had to be rescued through a broken window. There were stranded motorists all over the city.”

One of them was Frontenac resident Terri Steele, who said she was stranded Monday night in her vehicle on North Broadway in front of Wal-Mart.

“There was so much water running across Broadway from the parking lot that no one could go anywhere,” Steele said. “There were six to seven cars all in the turn lane on what is the highest ground, just sitting and waiting.”

She said they waited for about 45 minutes for the water to subside enough to drive through, although it was still high.

Rain throughout Crawford County also necessitated several road closings, particularly along Cow Creek west of Pittsburg and Frontenac. Sheriff Dan Peak said deputies monitored flooded roads throughout the county late Monday and early Tuesday and assisted a stranded motorist on 240th Avenue between Centennial and Quincy streets.

He said his department was continuing to monitor the water levels of creeks and rivers in the area, particularly south of Crawford County in Cherokee County and in the Miami, Okla., area.

“If it gets stopped up down there, it could really cause some issues up here,” Peak said Tuesday afternoon. “We’re really watching to see if the flow slows, particularly around West Quincy and Lone Star.”

Officials closed Wilderness Park just off McKay Street in Frontenac on Tuesday, and it likely will remain closed today because of flooding along Cow Creek, which cuts through the popular hiking and biking park.

Just west of Pittsburg, a power outage after the storm forced the SEK Humane Society to close to the public Tuesday. It will reopen at 11 a.m. today.

Officials in Fort Scott, in Bourbon County, reported 4.72 inches of rain, and emergency preparedness officials were assessing damage to a mobile home, trees and outbuildings near Bourbon County State Park at 20th Street and Indian Road.

The National Weather Service in Springfield attributed the damage to an EF-1 tornado as the storm tracked through the area.

Residents throughout areas of Pittsburg reported flooded basements and washed-out foundations. Wal-Mart shift manager Mindy Hernandez reported that as the heaviest of the rains tracked through, much of the store’s sales floor had at least an inch of standing water.

“We didn’t have to close; we just roped off that area,” she said.

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