- The Washington Times - Monday, September 1, 2003

EMPORIA, Kan. (AP) — Flash flooding swept several vehicles off an interstate highway, killing four children, three of them strapped inside a minivan carried more than a mile by the rushing water.

Rescuers yesterday were searching for the children’s mother and a driver from Texas, though both were presumed dead.

Occupants of the other five of seven cars swept off the roadway when torrential rain sent a creek spilling over Interstate 35 late Saturday had been accounted for, authorities said.

“It happened really fast; there was nothing that could be done,” said the Rev. Steve Gordon, a driver who escaped unharmed. “It was a sick feeling just watching them go under.”

The minivan was found 1 miles from the scene with the children still in it. The fourth child was found yesterday morning about a quarter-mile from the van. The children’s father survived, said Capt. Mark Conboy of the Kansas Highway Patrol.

Police have not released the names of the victims.

The only other person who had not been accounted for yesterday was a man from Fort Worth, Texas. Capt. Conboy said the man called his wife Saturday evening, told her his Jeep had stalled and asked her to come get him. The wife, who arrived yesterday morning, had not heard from him since.

“We believe he got out first and was out trying to help people,” Capt. Conboy said. “That was just based on what he told his wife.”

The Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks yesterday used boats, four-wheel-drive vehicles and a helicopter to search the low-lying rocky area in the Flint Hills, bordered by the usually small Jacob’s Creek.

The two missing persons were presumed dead, “but you can’t give up hope,” Capt. Conboy said.

The search would continue until dark yesterday and would resume today if necessary, he said.

Light rain was still falling in the search area after a downpour of 8 to 12 inches in a 24-hour period starting early Saturday. More rain and thunderstorms were forecast yesterday for much of the Central Plains, and a flood watch was in effect for much of Kansas.

The highway began flooding Saturday evening as heavy rain created a torrent in the creek. Though it isn’t known for flooding problems, the creek, which at one point passes through a culvert under the highway, overflowed. As water spilled into the roadway, cars were forced to stop.

The first call of trouble came in Saturday evening, Capt. Conboy said.

“They just described it as a wall of water that came across the road,” said Capt. Conboy, who estimated the water reached 6 to 7 feet along the section of interstate.

“It looked like a river going across the road,” said Mr. Gordon, who was returning to the Bethany Missionary Baptist Church in Kansas City, Mo., from Dallas. “The concrete barriers [between lanes] were being tossed around like feathers.”

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