- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 3, 2007

OSAWATOMIE, Kan. (AP) — Rivers swollen to record levels by days of heavy rain inched higher in parts of the southern Plains yesterday, keeping thousands of people from returning to water-logged homes.

Crude oil spilling from a refinery into one flooding river in Kansas contributed to the mess and flowed toward Oklahoma.

The Kansas National Guard was sent to help with a mandatory evacuation of Osawatomie, a small town in eastern Kansas and one of the hardest-hit communities in the region. The town evacuated 40 percent of its 4,600 residents after two rivers — Pottawatomie Creek on the town’s southern flank and the Marais des Cygnes on the north — rose out of their banks.

“I think the Marais des Cygnes will be OK,” Mayor Philip Dudley said. “I’m still concerned about Pottawatomie Creek. It’s supposed to get over 49 feet on Monday.”

Rain had mostly stopped falling yesterday in Kansas, but the National Weather Service extended a flash-flood watch for the state’s southeastern corner.

Levees and dikes around Osawatomie held after volunteers reinforced them with sandbags, but water pooling in low-lying areas overwhelmed pumps and flooded neighborhoods.

“It’s going to be a few days before we get some of the higher rivers to come down,” said Maren Stoflet, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Pleasant Hill, Mo.

Problems created by the flooding were compounded by a spill of more than 42,000 gallons of crude oil from the Coffeyville Resources refinery into the Verdigris River, said Sharon Watson, spokeswoman for the Kansas Emergency Management Agency.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency had teams on the scene of the spill, said Jim Miller, Montgomery County emergency manager. About a third of the homes in Coffeyville and a quarter of homes in Independence had been evacuated, he said, and water intakes for Coffeyville, Independence and Elk City had been shut down.

Coffeyville Mayor Virgil Horn said his own house was submerged.

“We’re very concerned,” Mr. Horn said. “It’s chemicals mixed with water.”

The oil was expected to flow down the swollen Verdigris River into Oklahoma and Lake Oologah, said Maj. Gen. Tod Bunting, the Kansas state adjutant. The lake, about 30 miles northeast of Tulsa, provides flood control, drinking water and recreation.

“There are nine public water supplies along the Verdigris and the Oologah Lake, and none of them are currently affected,” said Skylar McElhaney, a spokeswoman for Oklahoma’s Department of Environmental Quality.

Oklahoma officials were optimistic the spill would dissipate before it reached Oologah Lake.

Elsewhere in northeastern Oklahoma, emergency officials estimated 2,500 to 3,000 people were forced from their homes during the weekend around Bartlesville and Dewey because of flooding from the Caney River, said Kary Cox, Washington’s County’s emergency management director.

More rain was scattered over Texas and eastern Oklahoma on Sunday and yesterday, the latest in nearly two weeks of storms that have inundated parts of Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma. Eleven deaths have been blamed on the storms.

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