Area flooding impedes weekend travelers

Monday, July 2, 2007

When the Marmaton River began rising late last week, Fort Scott area residents who had checked the weather forecast knew what to expect.

At 9 a.m. Friday, the river reached flood stage -- 38 feet -- according to Rick McDaniels of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, whose job includes checking the water levels.

At 3:30 p.m. Friday, the river was creeping up the backside of The Fifth Wheel tavern's parking lot on Humboldt Street. Owner Debbie Cagle pointed out where a service man from the Kansas Gas Service Co. had planted a flag, saying he would have to pull her meter when the water covered the flag. Standing at the edge of the water, Cagle and her customers could see south through the trees, where the current was creating whitecaps as the floodwater rushed eastward.

The water just kept rising and, by that evening, Fort Scott Livestock Market, Inc., across the street north of the tavern had evacuated all the animals.

Throughout the weekend, more and more roads and highways became impassible in Southcentral and Southeast Kansas. Flooding was reported in Fredonia, on U.S. Highway 400, north of Independence. Coffeyville, on U.S. 169, just above the Oklahoma line, had flooding, too.

By Saturday morning, the Little Osage River, though it did not cover the bridge on U.S. 69 north of Fulton, had risen out of its banks, flooding the countryside as far as the eye can see.

Before noon Saturday, Kansas Department of Transportation workers had barricaded U.S. Highway 69 at Kansas Highway 52 just south of Pleasanton. KDOT officials at the scene said water was flowing over the highway at City Lake Road near Pleasanton and at Trading Post, further north. As of Monday morning, the highway is still impassable in Linn County.

Fort Scott Public Works Director Eric Bailey was on duty at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, watching the Marmaton flood waters where they cross North National Avenue.

"It went over North National at about 3:30 yesterday (Saturday) afternoon," he said.

Although he said he knew of one home that had been flooded, Bailey said Smith and Chambers, Inc. at 400 N. National Avenue just on the other side of the river, had not sustained any water damage.

The Fifth Wheel tavern was not so lucky, nor was Cowen's Country Corner convenience store on U.S. 54. Both had been flooded out.

McDaniels said the Marmaton crested at 3 a.m. Sunday, reaching 47.2 feet, then it began to drop, although tributaries to the east caused it to continue rising in Missouri, according to broadcast news reports.

About 2 p.m. Sunday, a couple of motorcyclists from the Chicago area pulled their Harley-Davidsons into the Jump Start convenience store at Sixth Street and National Avenue.

On their way to Albuquerque, N.M., the two had come through Nevada, Mo. on U.S. 54 but were diverted to the south before reaching Fort Scott.

Bill Clesen, Des Plaines, Ill., said the highway was closed before they even made it to the Kansas state line.

"They had the road shut down, and they gave us a detour," he said. "They told us to make a left, five miles to (Missouri Highway) F, then a right turn on (Missouri Highway) FF, then a right turn on (Missouri Highway) T."

Wayne Dressler, Skokie, Ill, said, "That's what we did, and we ended up here."

Asking where they could get back on U.S. 54, they learned that National Avenue, which would have otherwise taken them to the U.S. 54 going west, was closed due to floodwaters over the street. They also learned that, even if they could have reached the highway, it wouldn't have been able to proceed west, because the river had flooded U.S. 54 between Fort Scott and Kansas Highway 7. The possibility of going south to Kansas Highway 39 and connecting to U.S. 400 was ruled out when they heard that Fredonia, near Wichita, was flooded.

After talking to several people, they spoke to an area resident who said if they didn't mind gravel roads, he would lead them north and then west to Kansas Highway 7, where they could ride back south to U.S. 54 on the other side of the flooded area.

At 3 p.m. Sunday, the Marmaton had dropped to 45.75 feet, McDaniel said.

"Now, it's down to about 42-43 feet," he said in a telephone interview at 9 a.m. Monday.

As of Monday morning, some Kansas roads and highways, including U.S. 69 between Prescott and Pleasanton, are impassable. For road information, log onto