View a video feature on the aftermath of the levee break in Winthrop, Missouri and a gallery
of photos from around town on the flooding by visiting www.atchisonglobenow.com.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment affirmed that residents within City of Atchison limits can safely drink tap water without fear of the contamination detected on Tuesday morning. Atchison County rural water districts 1, 3, 5C and 6 remain under a boil advisory, along with the City of Lancaster.
WINTHROP, Missouri — After days of apparent luck, the Atchison area crossing of the Missouri River remains shut down following a levee break on Thursday.
Authorities indicated that waters from the Mighty Mo were likely to make passage of U.S. Highway 59 between Atchison and St. Joseph, Missouri, fully impassable. Flooding swamped sections of the highway by 1 p.m. Thursday.
Wes Lanter, Atchison County Emergency Management director, said that volunteers working to sandbag the Winthrop levee didn’t feel safe continuing; data from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers indicated that the 1993 record Atchison-area Missouri River crest of 31.6 feet would be broken.
Shortly after the volunteers pulled back, Lanter said, water began to consistently run over the levee. Lanter said that once consistent overtopping of an earthen levee occurs, if it can’t be arrested, levee collapse becomes virtually inevitable.
“It’s going to add quite a bit longer commute for people that are trying to get to this area,” Lanter said. “Our emergency services also have to enact their plans to get people transferred up to Mosaic (Life Care) or to different hospitals in our region if it’s critical and they can’t make it to Mosaic in time.”
Constituents of the Winthrop, Missouri, community hurried to get out of the way of encroaching floodwaters on Thursday. Winthrop is an unincorporated area directly across the river from town, and is commonly called East Atchison; its addresses are assigned to Rushville, Missouri, for mailing purposes.
The Amelia Earhart Memorial Bridge and sections of U.S. Highway 59 remained open for a time until floodwater came to immerse sections of the highway. Law enforcement guarded the barricades on the road to try to keep people from driving through the flooding. Nonetheless, at least one vehicle got around the barricades somehow late in the afternoon on Thursday, prompting a water rescue.
“We took the property over after the last flood in 2011 and we cleaned up through that flood,” said Penney Long, an Atchison resident who owns a house in Winthrop. “But, we haven’t actually seen the water coming up. That’s why we’re over here. We want to see how it comes into the house.”
Mo Farooqui, owner of Stop N Go convenience store just beyond the bridge in Missouri, closed up soon after water overtopped and then breached a nearby levee. A U-Haul truck was parked outside the store to get all of the inventory out that can be saved.
With the closure in place, traffic from St. Joseph to Atchison and to locations in Kansas further south will take U.S. Highway 36, and then Kansas Highway 7. Atchison itself will have traffic headed for the Kansas City area diverted down U.S. Highway 73, through Leavenworth.
Elwood, a lowland town in Doniphan County, across from St. Joseph, saw an evacuation on Thursday and the closure of Highway 36 ramps. The ramp closure appears to have stirred rumors that Highway 36 itself had been closed, but it remained open through Friday morning.
Lanter recently activated the Atchison County Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), a group of volunteers sponsored by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, for the first time for the purpose of grappling with the flooding. On Wednesday and Thursday, the CERT team worked with the City of Atchison, Atchison County government and the Salvation Army to distribute bottled water to those in need.
Until Friday morning, of the county remained under a water boil advisory following a detection of high turbidity, a form of contamination, related to the release of material into the river caused by levee damage. The water is largely considered safe, yet boiling it has been advisable to ensure no bacteria are present. Bathing and other purposes are safe.
As of Friday afternoon, the boil advisory was lifted for the City of Atchison, but not the surrounding rural water districts, which each must demonstrate local tap water turbidity doesn’t measure at higher 0.35 nephemoletric turbidity units; 1.0 NTU or higher is considered unsafe.
The American Red Cross announced on Thursday evening that it has set up several shelters in response to the rising river levels. These include shelters at The Keys Christian Fellowship, 6001 South Ninth St. in St. Joseph, at the Troy Community Building, 1217 Last Chance Rd. in Troy, Kansas, and at the Mound City Christian Church, 405 Fifth St. in Mound City.
To make a contribution to those suffering from the flood disasters, call 1-800-RED-CROSS or visit www.redcross.org for more information.
City officials in St. Joseph expected the Missouri River to crest at 32 feet between 1 and 4 p.m. this afternoon and are ordering an evacuation for parts of St. Joseph. The order came during an EOC meeting this morning at Fire State 12 on St. Joseph Avenue.
During a noon EOC meeting with the city of St. Joseph, Mayor Bill McMurray said the levees in are holding. St. Joseph Police Chief Chris Connally also shared that police have been helping evacuate residents. Connally added the department would assess the need for evacuation check points depending on the river’s crest and recession.
During the morning meeting, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers confirmed the 32-foot crest, which city staff said will top the airport levee on the west bank of the Missouri River and put part of the east side at risk for flooding Friday afternoon. At noon, the National Weather Service measured the river at 32 feet, while the U.S. Geological Survey showed a measurement of 32.32 feet.
McMurray and Buchanan County presiding commissioner Lee Sawyer said they would sign evacuation orders as soon as prepared Friday morning. Once signed the emergency sirens will sound and the evacuation will begin.
The evacuation order includes an area in south St. Joseph west of Lake Avenue and bordered by Atchison Street to the north and Contrary Creek to the south.
City staff said the evacuation order applies to residents and businesses. St. Joseph’s Police and Fire Departments said at the meeting they are ready for systematic evacuation once ordered. Other city operations, such as its sewer plant, will continue.
A St. Joseph Animal Control & Rescue representative said more than 50 dogs and cats with their food and supplies were moved overnight from their Lower Lake Road location to the Friends of Animal Shelter on Corporate Drive.
City administration also directed 130 city workers to sandbagging efforts to help shore the Missouri River west bank levee to help protect the Missouri Air National Guard and Rosencrans Airport.
Also Friday morning, Triumph Foods announced at 10 a.m. that it was suspending operations for the day.
Triumph said it would monitor flooding conditions throughout the day and hoped to reopen Saturday.
As he figuratively immersed himself in local affairs on his first-ever day in town, the flooded Missouri River served as something of a greeting for U.S. Rep. Roger Marshall, largely considered a U.S. Senate contender.
“We won’t be able to stand here tomorrow,” Berger Company CEO Rick Berger told Marshall on the flooded west banks of the Mighty Mo just outside downtown Atchison.
Amid the flooding, which would be worsened within 24 hours by the failure of a levee in Winthrop, Missouri, Berger served as a guide through multiple parts of Atchison on a trip billed as an official, non-partisan Congressional visit. Marshall is clearly testing the waters statewide for a Senate campaign.
Incumbent Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, is to retire at the end of his current term in January 2021. Should Marshall run, the Republican primary field may be crowded, as several contenders have already announced their bids.
“It will be a typical Republican primary, in which every person and their pet will be in it,” said Jay Armstrong, a Muscotah farmer and leader in local conservative politics, during a small business forum featuring Marshall at the Atchison eatery, Paolucci’s Deli, Restaurant and Lounge.
Berger is careful not to take sides in any primary before a nominee is finalized. He nonetheless expects Marshall will be a top contender to succeed Roberts, whom Berger would like to see in the race.
“I certainly think he’s in the mix,” Berger said. “When I see the shortlist of candidates, he’s on it and near the top ... Congressman Marshall has not officially declared, but I know he’s exploring the options, and that there also others that are considering it.”
For his part, Marshall said, his primary focus is on solving problems for Kansans. It’s possible this could be accomplished via the Senate, should he prevail in both the primary and the general election in 2020. But that’s not yet been decided.
“Today, the river is rising,” Marshall said. “This is about understanding the problems of rural America, like high-speed internet ... some of the water disposal challenges as well have come to mind.”
Marshall held extended conversations with Berger, Atchison Area Chamber of Commerce President Jacque Pregont, Chairwoman Karen Seaberg of MGP Ingredients, Inc., Blish-Mize Co. CEO Jonathan Mize, among others. Among the top concerns: trade.
Commodities in Kansas are trading at collapsed prices and costs are going up amid tariff policies imposed by President Donald Trump. These policies have triggered retaliatory tariffs from nations such as China, particularly on American farmers.
Marshall acknowledged that at a basic level, all tariffs are a “tax” on consumers, the kind of policy that Republicans have traditionally opposed. However, he said, he has full confidence in Trump’s leadership.
Trump has gone out of his way, Marshall said, to express his gratitude for the patience and support of American farmers and business leaders while Trump attempts to leverage trade concessions out of U.S. overseas partners.
“The first question he asked me is, ‘How are your farmers doing?’” Marshall told business leaders of a recent meeting with Trump at the White House. “The president cares deeply about this issue.”
While touring the hangar housing Muriel, the last remaining Lockheed L-10E Electra — the same type of aircraft flown by Atchison’s own Amelia Earhart on her final voyage — Marshall took time to explain the criteria he’s using in determining whether to throw his hat in the ring.
“Certainly, we’re very focused on my job at hand,” Marshall said. “I’m still contemplating the run for Senate. I think it certainly looks feasible ... It’s good to be up here in Northeast Kansas.”