After many hours of waiting on their south Overland Park rooftop, Emiliano Yepez-Martinez’s family was rescued Tuesday by private citizens braving flood waters.
The clan of seven “is safe and sound,” said Jason Rhodes, manager of media for the Overland Park Fire Department, which had crews nearby waiting for the swirling currents to recede before approaching the house.
“We can’t condone private citizens taking that risk, but at least everyone’s OK,” he said.
As TV helicopters hovered over the house, two good Samaritans, Cyrus Dawson and Spencer Sherf, used a military-style truck with 52-inch tires to plow through the water, which reached about 4 feet high in spots. They traveled about a mile through flooded and unflooded land to reach the Yepez-Martinez home in the 15500 block of Kenneth Road.
“From what I saw on the news, I knew that truck would get there,” said Dawson, owner of Stonehenge Outdoor, which uses the truck to deliver materials for swimming pools, landscaping and masonry jobs. “The family was very thankful ... and hungry. I’d say they were in good spirits.”
Yepez-Martinez had hightailed to the roof with his family only to wait, rest on blankets and pace as TV helicopter crews buzzed above his home in the 15500 block of Kenneth Road.
At 9:30 a.m., the father told The Star on his cellphone: “We’ve been waiting five hours, maybe more.”
With at least 8 feet of water from the swollen Little Blue River swirling in the family’s yard, Yepez-Martinez shared the roof with his wife and five children — two girls and three boys, the youngest being 9. As the heat index reached the mid-80s, they took turns climbing down a ladder to retrieve bottled drinks, food and other items from their flooded home.
“We’ll get in the future a ball, just to pass around,” Yepez-Martinez father joked in his phone call.
Authorities set up an emergency staging area four blocks away and waited for the flood waters to drop.
Rhodes explained at midmorning: “Because they (the Yepez-Martinez family) are not in imminent danger and the water levels around them are receding, crews will allow those water levels to drop to safer levels before evacuating the family.”
Even after Dawson and Sherf came to the rescue in their ex-military vehicle, “there was rushing water that had to be navigated,” Rhodes said. “It was risky.”
Yepez-Martinez told The Star said the family ascended to the roof of the one-story, four-bedroom home in the middle of the night. “The noise from the river woke us up,” he said.
His wife called 911 right away. Then he called, then his 19-year-old son called.
From his view atop the roof while talking to The Star, Yepez-Martinez said he saw no emergency vehicles as 10 a.m. approached.
“Still waiting,” he said. “Five hours.”
Make that eight hours, as of their rescue.