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Thousands Flee Kansas Homes

Frenzied efforts to bolster Arkansas City's incomplete dike system helped prevent widespread flooding that has forced more than 2,000 people from their homes.

The rain-swollen Walnut River, east of the city near the Oklahoma state line, broke through a levee Tuesday morning, inundating about 300 homes.

City officials, fearing another levee breach, quickly evacuated as much as 40 percent of residential areas.

"We have probably gone too far, in retrospect, but better to err on the side of safety," City Manager Curtis Freeland said.

It was not immediately known when residents might be allowed to return to their homes.

The heaviest rain is over with, reports CBS This Morning Meteorologist Craig Allen, but the flooding will be around for several days because many rivers still are cresting.

Arkansas City is almost completely under water, with floodwaters is spilling out over river banks and filling up the town from road to road and highway to highway.

Quazetta Brown and her family were among the evacuees who crowded into three shelters opened throughout the city, most not knowing whether the floodwaters would reach their homes.

"We just do the best we can," she said. "Be thankful for what we have: Our lives."

Floodwaters had receded enough by Tuesday evening so that two of the city's 10 wells were working again, replenishing the town's supply of drinking water, said Ron Parker, environmental specialist. The other eight wells remained inoperable.

Assessment teams from the Federal Emergency Management Administration, state Emergency Management and local officials went to the flooded areas Tuesday morning to determine whether damage was severe enough to trigger a presidential disaster declaration.

"There are an awful lot of people affected in the flood areas," said State Adjutant General James F. Rueger. "Places that normally don't get flooded even in times of high water are flooded this time."

Police said one man was presumed drowned in the Arkansas River to the west after telling a friend he was going for a swim. Farther north, near Newton, Kan., a woman was swept to her death when she drove her car onto a road that had been barricaded.

One man suffered minor injuries when a backhoe he was operating slipped into the Walnut River. The man was stacking rocks on a dike as reinforcement.

Since Monday, when up to 8 inches of rain fell in some areas, eight counties have been declared disaster areas by Gov. Bill Graves.

National Guard personnel were on duty in all affected areas, including an Air National Guard detachment sent to Arkansas City from Wichita on Monday night to prevent looting.

Elsewhere in eastern Kansas, moderate flooding occurred Tuesday morning along the Marais des Cygnes River at Ottawa. The river was more than 7 feet above flood stage and was expected to fall below flood stage early Wedesday.
Arkansas City is particularly vulnerable to flooding because of the confluence of the Walnut and Arkansas rivers south of town. The Walnut River got above 32 feet, well above the 18-foot flood stage.

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