Health Care

Floodwaters may contain raw sewage and other hazards, Missouri health official warns

Flooding in Parkville along Missouri River

Parks in low-lying areas of Parkville were flooded in March, 2019, as the Missouri River continued to swell.
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Parks in low-lying areas of Parkville were flooded in March, 2019, as the Missouri River continued to swell.

Missouri’s top health official is warning residents that the floodwaters inundating parts of the state may contain raw sewage and other hazards.

“It is vital that everyone working near floodwaters realizes the risks that exist,” Randall Williams, Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services director, said Monday. “Just as driving in moving or standing water is dangerous, wading in floodwaters or exposure while recovering from a flood can pose health risks.”

In addition to raw sewage, floodwaters can contain hazardous chemicals and debris. Those can cause cause skin rashes or infections, especially if the water gets into a cut or scrape.

In Parkville, English Landing Park and Platte Landing Park along the river have been underwater since Saturday, and officials have closed off access.

“We encourage everybody to stay away from the water,” said Dean Cull, deputy chief of the Southern Platte Fire Protection District.

Williams’ department advised anyone who has to work in the water to remove exposed clothing as soon as possible and scrub skin with soap and clean water. They’re advised to make sure they have an up-to-date tetanus-diptheria shot.

Drone footage from the Bellevue, Neb. Police Department shows severity of flooding along the Missouri River near Omaha, as heavy rainfall and snow melt caused the river to swell on Friday, March 15, 2019.

Rain storms and snowmelt in other states have swollen the Missouri River, causing serious flooding in Nebraska and Iowa and forcing the closure of Interstate 29 at mile marker 110 near Rock Port, Mo. The Missouri Department of Transportation is telling motorists heading north to use Interstates 35 and 80 to get around it.

The National Weather Service had initially predicted the waters would crest Tuesday, with minor flooding in Kansas City and more serious flooding in areas north of the city.

Those projections have since changed. The waters are now expected to crest Thursday, slightly below flood stage in Kansas City. But waters are still projected to reach “major” flood stage in St. Joseph and Atchison, Kan., and “moderate” flood stage in Leavenworth and Parkville.

Floodwaters surrounded buildings near Hamburg, Iowa, on Sunday. Ryan Soderlin AP

Parkville police Capt. Jon Jordan said the parks along the river are the only areas of town affected so far.

He said once the waters recede, his department will work with parks officials to organize cleanup and decide when the area is safe to open.

“Cleanup will be assessed as a group effort after the water recedes,” Jordan said. “They’ll work with the health department on that stuff. It’s going to depend on what’s there and what it looks like.”

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Kansas City Star health reporter Andy Marso was part of a Pulitzer Prize-finalist team at The Star and previously won state and regional awards at the Topeka Capital-Journal and Kansas Health Institute News Service. He has written two books, including one about his near-fatal bout with meningitis.