Doomsday KC

Ten additional tough times for the KC area

On June 4, 1979, the roof of Kemper Arena collapsed in a rainstorm. Fortunately, no one was inside at the time.
On June 4, 1979, the roof of Kemper Arena collapsed in a rainstorm. Fortunately, no one was inside at the time.

What occurred 30 miles north of Kansas City on June 22, 1947, was not disastrous. Just freaky.

A foot of rain fell on Holt, Mo., in only 42 minutes.

It’s a world-record rainfall with an unbeatable factor rivaling Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak in major league baseball, which happened to have been set in the same decade.

Five decades after the deluge, researchers were still trying to pinpoint what swirled at the border of Clay and Clinton counties to create the Holt rainstorm, Missouri state climatologist Pat Guinan said.

(We’ll spare you the details of a 1995 University of Washington study that attributed the cloudburst to something called “cold frontogenesis aloft.”)

Whatever its cause, the storm was eerily Holt-specific. Surrounding areas such as Kansas City, St. Joseph and Cameron, Mo., reported rainfall amounts that day between 2 and 4 inches.

That’s wet, but nothing close to a foot in 42 minutes. For its oddness alone, the event was included in The Star’s list of 20 most significant natural disasters, for which Guinan and several others were consulted.

Here are calamities that didn’t make the top 10, in chronological order:

▪ A two-year plague of grasshoppers in the mid-1870s stripped local fields bare of vegetation. The “sun was eclipsed” when the insects known as Rocky Mountain locusts took flight, a telegram reported.

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A two-year plague of grasshoppers in the mid-1870s stripped local fields bare of vegetation. The “sun was eclipsed” when the insects known as Rocky Mountain locusts took flight, a telegram reported.

Railroad tracks became a hazard beneath the cover of grasshoppers, whose guts produced a slippery goo when trains passed over.

The plague was blamed on drought in the West.

It ended according to script: Missouri Gov. Charles Hardin declared June 3, 1875, “a day of fasting and prayer for deliverance from the scourge.” Accounts are written of the invaders flapping away before the week was done.

▪ The snows of March 1912 buried Kansas City under more than 40 inches for the month. A one-day record of 20.5 inches fell on March 23.

“Isn’t it ever going to quit?” complained the city’s street supervisor, W.C. Weaver.

Streetcars stalled in drifts 5 feet high. Residents brought dinners and blankets to stranded streetcar operators who refused to leave their rigs.

About 1,000 men showed up downtown to take jobs shoveling the streets. The snow was piled into 250 wagons pulled by horses and dumped over the bluffs.

Together the men and horses cleared the retail district in a few hours, leaving it “almost as clean and dry as if that part of the city had been skipped by the storm,” The Star reported.

The city back then had a unique approach to snow removal. Soon as temperatures rose above freezing, crews opened fire hydrants and directed jets of water at snowbanks that remained.

The newspaper explained: “In this way a goodly part of the snow was carried into the sewers.”

▪ On June 4, 1979, the roof of Kemper Arena collapsed in a violent rainstorm. Nobody was inside.

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Thunder and fierce winds accompanied a downpour of 3.5 inches of rain in 90 minutes.

Still, a public arena clobbered by rain? The building was less than 6 years old. It cost $11 million to build.

Had the storm hit a week earlier, the roof might have fallen on a capacity crowd attending a Village People concert.

City engineers defended the building’s design, which had been honored by the American Institute of Architects. Coincidentally, that group was in town at a convention when the collapse occurred.

Damage totaled $1 million. More costly was the blow to the city’s image. The collapse two years later of the Hyatt Regency skywalks — a man-made disaster, unlike those listed here — would deepen mistrust of local building standards.

▪ Levees, walls and other flood control measures spawned by the 1951 flood kept the Great Flood of 1993 from devastating Kansas City.

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In 1993, men paddled in a boat on Southwest Boulevard during flooding in Kansas City. DAVID PULLIAM THE KANSAS CITY STAR

But Southwest Boulevard again was inundated. In the West Bottoms, the American Royal building and Kemper Arena took on water. Flood damage areawide exceeded $18 million.

Elsewhere, the bloated Missouri River swallowed little towns whole. One of the most harrowing chapters of the disaster played out 50 miles northeast of Kansas City, in the Hardin, Mo., cemetery.

A levee break allowed the river to wash away hundreds of graves.

▪ Despite Brush Creek being redesigned to control flooding, torrential rains on Oct. 4, 1998, were too much to keep the channel contained.

A flash flood swept over the bridge at Prospect Avenue, where seven people died trying to drive through. More cars washed into Turkey Creek in Kansas City, Kan.

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Turkey Creek saw submerged cars after the flood of Oct. 4, 1998.

An estimated 1,100 homes across the metro suffered damage.

The storm was watched nationwide as lightning temporarily halted an evening broadcast of a Chiefs game. Cameras panned steps at Arrowhead Stadium that had been transformed into waterfalls.

▪ From a storm cell that formed near Kansas City, Kan., at least four tornadoes danced through the Northland on May 4, 2003.

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Tornadoes struck the area on May 4, 2003. Winds of 200 mph damaged about 1,700 structures, mostly in Clay County. High winds flung debris from Basehor on the Kansas side to Mosby in Missouri. One person died. KEITH MYERS THE KANSAS CITY STAR

Winds of 200 mph damaged about 1,700 structures, mostly in Clay County. Roofs were torn from historic buildings on the square in Liberty.

Across the area, as many as nine tornadoes flung debris from Basehor on the Kansas side to Mosby in Missouri. One person died.

Total damage: $150 million.

▪ Kansas City sat in the bull’s-eye of a 2012 drought that stretched across several Midwest states.

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In 2012, David Stephenson skipped a rock off the hard dirt in a dry pond on his family’s property in east Kansas City. Keith Myers The Kansas City Star

For a couple of years beginning in late 2011, the online U.S. Drought Monitor had the Kansas City area color-coded in various stages of drought. In the summer and fall of 2012, shades of red covered the area, signaling “extreme drought” or worse.

Beyond the losses to farmers, the drought’s effects in the city would linger for years, with foundations and driveways cracking, trees dying and food prices rising even as wetter weather returned. (And did it ever. The snows of 2013 didn’t let up until early May.)

Although diseases aren’t listed among natural disasters recognized by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, experts polled by The Star cited three outbreaks especially brutal to Kansas City:

▪ Hundreds of Jackson Countians and new arrivals to the infant Town of Kansas were struck down by cholera. An early-1850s epidemic cut the town’s population of 1,000 by two-thirds through death or residents fleeing, said John A. Horner, a researcher at the Kansas City Public Library.

A physician in 1854 linked Kansas City’s cholera to unsanitary water in a single pump.

▪ While the 1918 influenza pandemic killed as many as 100 million people worldwide, Kansas Citians died at a rate much higher than other Americans.

Historian John M. Barry is among a growing group of experts who suspect the flu originated in Haskell County, Kan.

A carrier from there may have spread the disease to recruits at Camp Funston, Fort Riley’s training ground. Tens of thousands of those soldiers then took the flu around the globe in the final year of World War I, Barry believes.

BIRD FLU UNCERTAINTIES
Experts think the 1918 influenza pandemic originated in Haskell County, Kan. A carrier from there may have spread the disease to recruits at Camp Funston, Fort Riley’s training ground, shown here. Tens of thousands of those soldiers then took the flu around the globe. The Associated Press

An estimated 2,300 local residents would die over 27 weeks, putting Kansas City in the ranks of the 10 most devastated cities in the nation.

▪ Dutch elm disease arrived in Kansas City in late 1957, a time when most of the areas’ yard and park trees were elms. Despite voters approving a tax increase in 1963 to fight the disease and the beetles that spread it, 70,000 trees eventually were lost.

A sequel to that disaster is already out.

Officials last month warned that half of the area’s ash trees, if untreated, could perish at the jaws of another beetle, the emerald ash borer.

To reach Rick Montgomery, call 816-234-4410 or send email to rmontgomery@kcstar.com.

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