Torrential rains caused historic flooding in the Kansas City area Tuesday, leaving one man dead in Kansas and others stranded for hours by high water.
Water rescues and evacuations kept police and firefighters busy with hundreds of calls after as much as 9 inches of rain fell starting Monday night.
Flooding made many roads impassable, trapping people at homes and businesses along the Blue River and Indian Creek, which set a new record of 28.22 feet overnight and topped its banks after record flooding last month. Water spilling out of Indian Creek inundated bridges, businesses, apartments and houses.
For just the second time ever, the National Weather Service issued a flash flood emergency alert for the entire Kansas City area. The first time was last August.
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Johnson County declared a state of local disaster, and an American Red Cross shelter in south Kansas City took in nearly 20 people by Tuesday afternoon, when flood waters started to recede.
Early Tuesday in Miami County, a 56-year-old man died after driving into high water on U.S. 69. The Miami County Sheriff’s Office identified the man as Robert D. Schoenhals and said his car was swept away by rushing water.
In Kansas City, firefighters rescued a woman stranded in a tree at 103rd Street and Wornall Road when Indian Creek flooded the area.
A family of seven was trapped on top of their roof for hours after water surrounded their home at 155th Street and Kenneth Road. The family was eventually rescued by private citizens in a military-style truck.
Kansas City police and firefighters responded to more than 272 water-related calls from 10 p.m. Monday to Tuesday morning. Of those calls, 62 were for water rescues. First responders rescued 40 people from the Swope Parkway Industrial Complex.
The American Red Cross set up an emergency shelter Tuesday at the Southeast Community Center in Swope Park, where nearly 20 people arrived after being displaced by flooding along Indian Creek.
None of those people was injured, said shelter manager Terri Layton. “They’re a little damp, but no worse for wear.
“Right now, we’re providing them with a safe place to rest, to get something to eat, until we can get them home,” she said.
Layton said some would stay overnight at the shelter, which will be open again Wednesday.
Emergency responders closely monitored the Blue River on Tuesday near 85th Street and Hickman Road. About 10:30 a.m., an emergency rescue team with a boat retrieved workers who were trapped in the nearby Dodson Industrial District.
A half-dozen employees at Ryan Lawn and Tree, rescued by the emergency crew, had gone into work about 6 a.m., after the rain had stopped, when 85th Street was still clear.
They didn’t know the river was rising until other workers trying to get to the shop called about 6:30 a.m. and said 85th Street was closed and flooded.
“That’s when we went out and looked,” Mark DeDonder said. “We couldn’t get out.”
What they saw was flooding at a level they hadn’t seen before or ever expected.
“We never figured it would get this tall,” Frank Dobbins said.
At the corner of 85th and Hickman Mills Drive, employees at Genesys System Integrator had to unbolt a section of steel fencing and lay down an improvised driveway of pallets and plywood to drive vehicles out as the flood rose over the parking lot, manufacturing manager David Summa said.
Finally, about 10:10 a.m., a bolt marker they had set down and moved at the edge of the water showed that the river crest was finally receding.
Staff at Jack Stack Barbecue Catering south of 135th Street on Holmes Road in Martin City drove trucks to safety as water from the Blue River and storm sewers flooded the parking lot and approached its buildings.
“It’s still coming up,” general manager Chris Hayes said about 8 a.m. He’s been with company 12 years and had “never seen it do this before.”
Across the street, Cornerstones of Care’s Ozanam School turned away staff as water overwhelmed the road to the campus.
“No one else can go through here,” said Lauren Vincent of Cornerstones of Care, standing at the edge of the flooded road.
Any bridges that were covered with water, or where water approached underneath the bridge, had to remain closed until they could be inspected, police said.
At one point, the Kansas City Police Department released a list of nearly two dozen roads that were closed or were about to be closed because of flooding. Many, including 103rd Street and Wornall Road, reopened by Tuesday afternoon.
The Kansas City police also asked people to stay out of the areas of 85th Street and Hickman Mills Drive, Gregory Boulevard and Oldham Road, and 75th Street and Monroe Avenue until the waters receded.
Those areas were in danger of flooding until the Blue River crested. Power was also shut off at the Swope Parkway Industrial Area, which has been evacuated.
As the Blue River swelled Tuesday afternoon, police tactical teams went to the nearby Heart Mobile Village trailer park on U.S. 40 to begin evacuating residents. Engineers feared the river, and overflowing storm sewers, could flood the park.
“It could be an hour until it’s completely flooded,” Kansas City Police Officer Noah Stigall told a resident as the team made the rounds. “They called us (the tactical team) out here to evacuate people, that’s how serious it is.”
The evacuation was ultimately called off when the river crested without flooding. Residents soon returned to their homes, to the great relief of 30-year-old Michael Schaefer.
“They were saying there was a real breach or something, and we had to get everything out in 15 minutes,” he said. “I’m glad that nothing is going to get messed up. Better safe than sorry.”
The southern dam at Harrisonville’s Lake Luna was damaged by Tuesday morning’s heavy rains, forcing the evacuation of several homes near the dam. City crews used sandbags as a stopgap measure to stabilize the dam, and residents returned home.
Kansas City Fire Chief Paul Berardi said Tuesday morning that people were still driving into water, even though flash flood warnings had been issued hours earlier.
“Do not put yourself or emergency responders at risk,” Berardi tweeted.
The National Weather Service in Pleasant Hill issued a Flash Flood Emergency for the entire Kansas City area and said that many areas had flooding worse than the morning of July 27.
It was the third time in less than a month that heavy rains have dumped more than 6 inches of rain over many parts of the Kansas City area. For some areas, rainfall totals in the last 30 days range between 20 and 25 inches.
Several school districts were closed or were delayed because of the flooding.
Kansas City Power and Light reported about 6,600 customers were without power Tuesday morning. The areas with the most outages included Clay, Jackson and Johnson counties.
The Star’s Tony Rizzo contributed to this story.