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Raging Waters Kill 18

DATE OF EVENT: Monday, Sept. 12, 1977

DATE PUBLISHED: Tuesday, Sept. 13, 1977, in The Kansas City Star

Editor’s note: Before the floods reached the Country Club Plaza the night of Sept. 12, 1977, more than 10,000 homes already were without power, and hundreds of residents had been evacuated. That night, the rising waters of Brush Creek spilled into stores, offices and restaurants on the Plaza. As bodies were found downstream the death toll would climb to 25, and damages would be estimated at $100 million.

A ravaging flood, one of the worst natural disasters in the area’s history, has killed at least 18 persons in Kansas City and surrounding areas and devastated many areas of the city.

Police in Kansas City were searching for as many as 40 missing persons. Suburban police departments were searching for dozens more.

The plush Country Club Plaza area was among the hardest hit last night and early today. There, damage was caused by both the raging waters of Brush Creek and a massive explosion and fire that destroyed most of the 600 block of West 48th.

Robert Kipp, city manager, contacted Mayor Charles B. Wheeler in London today, telling him, “The physical destruction is disastrous beyond description.”

City officials said today the flooding along Brush Creek was at the so-called “500-year level”— meaning that it is the kind of flood expected to occur once every five centuries.

Tales of heroism and human suffering abounded as heavy thunderstorms moved through the area, knocking out electricity, telephones and natural gas service. Thousands of homes were damaged by roaring waters from usually tame creeks and drainage ditches. Basements were inundated by water pouring in from outside or by belching sewer lines backing up.

Hundreds of persons had to flee their homes and seek shelter from the rising waters.

As dawn broke, Kansas Citians were shocked by the massive destruction and reports of a mounting death toll. Automobiles had been swept into trees and streets and bridges were torn up by the rampaging waters.

Kansas City schools were closed and police and public service agencies mounted full-scale operations to cope with the disaster. …

Police were certain more bodies would be found, as they searched dozens of cars swept away by the raging waters of Brush Creek, the Blue River and other rivers, and dozens of creeks and drainage ditches.

Morning rush hour traffic was hopelessly snarled. Shortly after 8 a.m. police reported I-435 was backed up from downtown to 87th Street. Highway 50 was backed up east to Raytown Road.

But the National Weather Service offered a ray of hope: Forecasters said the rain should end tonight, with less than a 20 percent chance of further rain. The forecast calls for “clear, pleasant weather” by tomorrow.

Forecasters said they expected the Missouri River to crest at 25 feet this evening. Flood stage on the river is 22 feet. …

Officials warned against sight-seeing, a warning issued last night by police and the National Weather Service. Kansas City police said they think some of those killed had ignored the warnings — and died because of it. …

Stories of the damage abounded in the city and surrounding rural areas. George Elb, superintendent of city forestry and landscaping, said the city is responsible for all land along Brush Creek, which roared out of its banks.

He said there were seven cars dumped by the waters on the Plaza tennis courts. …

One inspector for the (city health) department estimated that 90 per cent of the food in Plaza stores and shops had been damaged because of power failures…

In other parts of the metropolitan area residents said they were more concerned about looting than about flood damage. …

Forecasters for the National Weather Service said the storms starting late Sunday night and continuing into today officially dumped 9.15 inches of rain on the city. But semi-official readings of up to 16 inches were reported, with measurements of 12 to 14 inches common throughout the area. A meteorologist who records rainfall at his home near 50th and Wornall reported 14 inches had fallen.