Rains to ease but flood concerns linger

Oil-contaminated floodwaters an issue in Kansas.

BY P.J. HELLER | DALLAS, Texas | July 6, 2007

An estimated 42,000 gallons of crude oil from an oil refinery spill mix with floodwaters in Coffeyville.
Credit: City of Coffeyville

Floodwaters mixed with oil from a 42,000 gallon refinery spill inundated Coffeyville and spread downstream.

Rain weary residents across the southern Plains are hoping that the incessant storms that have swamped them for nearly a month will ease over the weekend. In Kansas, meanwhile, Coffeyville residents were being kept away from parts of the town where floodwaters have been contaminated by a crude oil spill.

Forecasters said heavy thunderstorms were expected to move into Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana on Saturday. However, some rain was still forecast through the middle of next week over much of Texas, where all of the states major river basins were at flood stage. Forecasters said there was a chance of rain returning to Oklahoma on Monday.

Texas officials said more rainfall could add to the flooding woes across much of the state as rivers continued to rise. The Trinity River in east Texas was not expected to crest predicted at 15 feet over its 28-foot flood stage - until Sunday.

The Texas storms have destroyed or heavily damaged 1,000 homes in six counties and left at least 17 people dead or missing, according to officials. Some 49 counties in the state have been affected by heavy flooding.

The wet weather continued in eastern Texas early Friday, with some areas reporting nearly 4 inches of rain. Longview recorded 3.79 inches between midnight and noon Friday, with Tyler close behind with 3.77 inches.

Flash flood watches and warnings were in effect Friday throughout southeast Texas.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry has issued disaster proclamations for 44 counties and said additional counties would be added as damage assessments are completed. Six counties - Cooke, Coryell, Denton, Grayson, Lampasas and Tarrant have received federal disaster declarations.

Rivers in Oklahoma and Kansas continued to recede. Flood warnings were in effect for several rivers in Oklahoma. Those areas included McCurtain, Muskogee, Nowata, Okmulgee, Ottawa, Washington, Rogers and Tulsa.

Oklahoma officials said initial damage assessments showed 836 homes damaged or destroyed by the flooding in Comanche, Ottawa, Pottawatomie and Washington counties.

Shelters were open at the First Christian Church in Miami and at East Cross United Methodist Church in Bartlesville. Southern Baptist Men's Disaster Relief was providing meals in the area and organizing assistance for Miami and Bartlesville residents who need help with removal of flood debris from their homes. The Salvation Army and American Red Cross were also distributing meals and flood cleanup kits.

All 77 Oklahoma counties remain under a state of emergency.

Water is still threatening to overflow from a swollen Lake Texoma, officials said. Lake Texoma was expected to flow over the spillway Monday and continue for 10 to 14 days. Residents downstream from the lake were encouraged earlier this week to have an evacuation plan and to move vehicles, farm equipment and other items to higher ground.

In Kansas, officials reported that more than 3,000 homes had been destroyed or severely damaged by recent flooding in a five county area.

In hard-hit Coffeyville near the Kansas-Oklahoma border, state officials assumed control of the flood response because of concerns about floodwaters from the Verdigris River that have mixed with 42,000 gallons of crude oil spilled by a local refinery.

Environmental testing was being conducted on air and water and residents were being kept away out of the contaminated areas.

"Due to the magnitude of the Coffeyville flood and in the interest of the health and well-being of our citizens, the city of Coffeyville requested the state of Kansas assume control of the flood response operation," city clerk Cindy Price said in a prepared release.

Residents were being urged to drink bottled water or boil water before drinking it.

Rescue personnel going door-to-door in the town found the body of man in a motel room, believed to be the area's first flood fatality.

The Coffeyville Ministerial Alliance was gathering food and small furnishing donations at First United Methodist Church. Church member Linda Bever said her church was collecting the food to be distributed to local shelters. She anticipated the church doing more once the recovery phase begins.

For now, just seeing what the flooding has done is shocking, she said.

"Now that the water is starting to recede, the odor is monumental," said Bever, a 20-year resident of Coffeyville. "It'll be a long recovery, but we'll get in there and clean it up. It's awful right now, but we'll survive.

"I've seen some bad disasters - tornadoes and floods before in other parts of Kansas - but this one tops it all for this area," she said.

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