Wednesday, July 4, 2007

COFFEYVILLE, Kan. (AP) — The flood engulfing homes to the rooftops carried an extra curse yesterday as a slick of 42,000 gallons of thick crude oil floated downstream with the mud and debris, coating everything it touched with a slimy, smelly layer of goo.

“My question is: How are they going to get all that oil out of the environment?” said Mary Burge, a heart surgery patient who had to breathe from a portable oxygen tank because the petroleum odor Monday was so strong that it could be detected by the crews of helicopters passing overhead.

By yesterday, the oil was nearing a large Oklahoma reservoir that supplies water to several cities.

The Verdigris River had crested and was beginning to recede yesterday at Coffeyville, but it was kept high by water being released from the Elk City and Fall River Toronto Lake reservoirs upstream, said Jim Miller, Montgomery County emergency manager.

“It’s going to come down the Verdigris until they shut that water supply off,” he said. “So it’s just a matter of time.”

A malfunction allowed the oil to spill from the Coffeyville Resources refinery Sunday while the plant was shutting down in advance of the flood from the Verdigris River.

Sharon Watson, spokeswoman for the Kansas adjutant general, said the Environmental Protection Agency and state officials would work with officials at the refinery to measure the amount of contamination and help the refinery clean up. In the meantime, she said, “We’re asking everyone to avoid the floodwaters.”

That wasn’t an option for Fire Department Capt. Mike Mansfield, who rescued eight dogs from water-logged homes Monday. He said all the dogs found outside were covered in oil.

The oil slick was expected to float into Oklahoma’s Oologah Lake, about 30 miles northeast of Tulsa, yesterday, said Dave Bary, a spokesman for the Environmental Protection Agency in Dallas. However, officials who flew over the river said that by late morning the slick was still about five or six miles from the lake entrance.

Tulsa is among the nine Oklahoma cities that get public water supplies from the Verdigris and Oologah.

The floating oil, which would enter the north end of the lake, wasn’t expected to have an effect on water-supply intakes located well below the surface at the south end, said Skylar McElhaney, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality.

The oil joins other causes of misery for thousands of flood evacuees in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. On Monday night, President Bush declared a major disaster in Kansas and ordered federal aid for recovery efforts.

“We do have health concerns,” said Bret Glendening, city manager in Osawatomie, Kan. “You’ve got stagnant water. The water’s been into the wood. You have mold issues. There’s a whole host of concerns flooding causes.”

“All our utilities are underwater,” Fredonia Mayor Max Payne said.

However, the water had receded significantly at Osawatomie by yesterday morning, said Mayor Philip Dudley. Pumps provided by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers were “making significant progress.”

“I saw drops [in water level] on the sides of houses of about a foot and half,” Mr. Dudley said. “It’s looking a lot better than it did Saturday and Sunday.”

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