Thunderstorm stalls over city,
overwhelming swollen creeks
By Wally Kennedy and Derek Spellman
A thunderstorm that stalled Tuesday over Joplin caused Joplin Creek to surge out of its banks, flooding stalled vehicles and forcing the evacuation of businesses near Eighth Street and Illinois Avenue.
Dr. Melvin Elledge, an 80-year-old podiatrist with an office at 734 S. Illinois Ave., said: “The girls in the beauty salon next door told me they were leaving because water was coming in their front door. I went to the back door, and it was coming in.
“The police were there. I don’t walk as good as I used to, so they picked me up and carried me out. They said if I didn’t get out, then I would have to swim out later.”
The National Weather Service station in Springfield said between 2 and 5 inches of rain fell over Joplin within a couple of hours Tuesday.
City officials said they were surveying streets and bridges for damage.
Joplin firefighters and police helped dozens of people get to higher ground as the torrent rose around Joplin Plaza, Vatterott College and the Cinema 6 theaters.
The creek, which drains much of east Joplin, flooded several streets leading to Campbell Parkway, including Connecticut Avenue. Also flooded was Murphy Boulevard in Ewert Park.
Flooding intensified near Fourth Street and Murphy Boulevard, where Willow Branch flows into Joplin Creek. The branch, which drains
much of west Joplin, flows under the downtown. Water from Willow Branch and Joplin Creek put much of Landreth Park under water.
Greg Edster, manager of G&H; Redi-Mix, 520 S. Murphy Blvd., and some co-workers were caught in the high water.
“We went to a building across the street to move some furniture,” he said. “When we got there, the water was a couple of inches deep. A couple of minutes later, there was 3 feet of water in that building. It came up in seconds. We were swimming in it.
“I have been here 26 years, and this is the worst I have ever seen. Willow Branch was out of its banks, and so was Joplin Creek. We were in the worst place possible.”
Rick Crisp, a salesman with Roper Pontiac, 808 S. Illinois Ave., watched the flooding unfold. He said Joplin Creek poured over the top of a small bridge that leads to the Cinema 6 theaters. The bridge deflected the water to Illinois Avenue and the parking lot of Vatterott College.
“It slowly started flooding,” Crisp said. “The truck and the car in the road stalled when the water was not real high. But before you knew it, the water was up to the top of the car.”
Kevin Badgley, with the Missouri Department of Conservation, which has on office in Joplin Plaza, said: “It was kind of exciting. We were watching the drainage ditch (Joplin Creek) and the water rise. We were not really even paying attention to the opposite side (of the plaza).
“They were evacuating the Granny Shaffer’s side when someone came around to us and asked, ‘What are you guys still doing here?’”
Badgley said he was unaware that the parking lot on the other side of the plaza was under water.
“We secured items in our office, elevated some stuff on desks and closed down the office,” he said. “I don’t think the water made it through our front door. It was unbelievably quick how fast it came up.”
Judy Ramsey, who works for attorney Cary Selsor at 705 S. Illinois Ave., said she watched several vehicles try to plow through the rising water. One car stalled, but a sport utility vehicle came up and nudged it to higher ground. Another vehicle was abandoned in the middle of the avenue. The occupants waded to the sidewalk, Ramsey said.
Beth Weston, a stylist at Stargrass Salon and Boutique, said she looked out a window at 11 a.m. Rainfall was heavy, but there was no apparent threat of flooding. About 15 minutes later, she looked out the window again, and saw that the water had risen to her car doors and was creeping toward the salon.
Weston drove her car to safer ground, then returned to the shop and moved equipment onto counters, shelves or any other high surface.
By the time she left the salon, she said, the water inside the shop was up to the electrical outlets.
Nearby, students and staff members at Vatterott College, 809 S. Illinois Ave., scrambled out of the building. Scott Haar, campus co-director, said staff members saw water seeping into the building about 11:15 a.m.
By about 11:30 a.m., the water was 18 inches deep, he said. As the 150 students were moved out of the building, school officials stuffed towels under doors to stem the tide and moved equipment to shelves and high surfaces, Haar said.
Elsewhere in Joplin, Baker’s Branch, which flows under the 1900 block of North Range Line Road, put part of the miniature-golf course at Range Line Golf under water. Turkey Creek caused flooding near North Florida Avenue and near North St. Louis Avenue. Several roads along Shoal Creek, south of Joplin, also were closed.
Jerry Claycomb, a meteorologist with the weather service in Springfield, said: “An area of thunderstorms formed over Joplin this (Tuesday) morning and then stalled over you before slowly moving south.
“Our look at the radar over Joplin shows that 2 to 5 inches of rain fell. The heaviest rain occurred between 10 and 11 a.m. About 1.5 inches fell in that one-hour time frame. Really, all of Southwest Missouri and Southeast Kansas are flooded right now.”
The rain gauge at the Joplin Regional Airport logged 1.87 inches from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday.
Source: National Weather Service
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