Floods submerge small KS towns

BY GEORGE PIPER | STRONG CITY, Kan. | November 13, 1998


STRONG CITY, Kan. (Nov. 13, 1998) -- Folks in Chase County, Kansas, knew

they had a disaster on their hands well before the federal government made

the official declaration this week.

The small rural county of slightly more than 3,000 residents had 165

homes damaged by the overflowing Cottonwood River, including 34 of 35 homes

in the tiny community of Elmdale. Federal Emergency Management Agency

(FEMA) field workers are gathering information from flood survivors there

as the recovery process begins.

"A lot of (residents) are waiting to hear what FEMA says before they decide

to rebuild," said Ellie Foster, a minister at United Methodist Church

congregations in Cottonwood Falls and Bazaar. "Some of them have already

said, 'We're out of here.'"

Federal officials on Monday expanded the original disaster declaration to

include Chase, Coffey, Franklin, Harvey, Lyon, Neosho, Sumner and Wilson

counties. The initial order on Nov. 5 named three counties: Butler, Cowley

and Sedgwick. Elmdale and Strong City bore much of the brunt in last

month's flooding in Chase County.

The Halloween night floods kept disaster response groups busy for days

afterward, and promises to occupy their time in the coming months.

Some 200 people per day ate in church kitchens across the county as flood

survivors waited to return home or looked for new residences. The mass

servings, which have dwindled to a handful of people, are ending Friday.

But the Salvation Army, which provided food for churches to cook and serve,

will operate a canteen for a few more weeks.

The Chase County Ministerial Alliance expects to play a major role in the

recovery as it prepares for post-disaster challenges of meeting unmet needs

and attracting volunteers for rebuilding projects, said Foster, who is

handling much of the administrative chores for the alliance.

In the short term, the organization plans to include dinner with its

community-wide Thanksgiving service. And as the holidays approach, the

alliance wants to expand its "adopt-a-child" gift program to entire

families.

"There's a lot of families that don't have children that are going to need

a little TLC at Christmas," Foster explained.

The alliance also established a telephone line (316-273-6036) to handle

calls from residents and potential volunteers.

This year's flooding in Chase County is the worst in 47 years. Locals told

Foster the water rose higher in 1951 than it did a two weeks ago, but the

fast moving water acted with more force. U.S. 50 is clear between Elmdale

and Strong City, but formerly dusty sidestreets in both towns are made

virtually impassable by thick mud.

But the volunteers who spent time giving relief by tearing out sheetrock

and cleaning mud from soaked homes impressed Foster. Their efforts also had

an impact on the flood survivors. "Folks are feeling kind of overwhelmed by

the volunteers that have come," he said.

Caught in between providing relief and beginning recovery, the area's

biggest need now, said Foster, is patience. As the reality of a long

recovery process sets in, people are filled with anger and frustration, she

said. The alliance arranged for a mental health center in nearby Emporia to

provide free counseling to survivors.

The biggest test of the 1998 flood may be how many residents return to

rebuild their homes. Even those who raised homes after the 1951 disaster

saw their work undone by rushing waters on Halloween.

"We've got quite a few senior citizens that don't have the oomph in them to

start over," Foster said.

Posted Nov. 13, 1998


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