Harvey County dealt with a deluge of precipitation early this week and while it has let up for the time being, that's not to say the threat of flooding that came with it has evaporated just yet.
Concerns about the excessive amount of rain — with an average of six inches recorded across the county during the downpour — were two-fold, according to Harvey County Emergency Management Director Gary Denny. First, the heavy rain brought with it the threat of areal flooding (of a large area). Then, of course, there was the threat from the rising water levels of the surrounding rivers and creeks.
"As we were expecting, we had the Little Arkansas River coming out of its bank and our main areas of concern were around the Sedgwick area and around the Halstead area," Denny said.
Flooding was so severe in Sedgwick, where the Little Arkansas crested at 25.1 feet, that portions of Fourth Street, Ridge Road and Franklin Avenue were closed — and school was called off for USD 439 both Tuesday and Wednesday. While a portion of Ridge Road (heading north out of town) was reopened as of Wednesday morning, the other streets remained closed to traffic.
Water levels have affected a total of 25 roads (with at least a warning issued) throughout the county, the majority in the western portion, according to a report released by Harvey County Wednesday afternoon. Nearly half of those affected were between Sedgwick and Halstead, though Halstead city clerk Jamie Eberly noted there have been no street closures within the city limits.
More rain is projected over the weekend, but that is not the biggest threat that remains regarding current flooding levels — as Denny said what is forecast is unlikely to have a negative impact on the current situation. What could have an impact is the closure of the floodgates in Halstead, where the Little Arkansas River has yet to crest (expected to happen on Thursday).
Denny noted the levels near Alta Mills are a good indication of what will happen in Halstead, where Eberly said the procedure is for the floodgates to be closed in stages if the crest reaches 19 feet or above. For now, city officials continue to monitor those levels.
"As of right now, it's just hour by hour, watching it and playing it by ear," Eberly said. "It's been kind of steadily staying close to that 18-foot mark, but we're still kind of watching it."
The closure of the floodgates at Halstead could mean a big change for riders of the Southwest Chief, a train that runs from Chicago to Los Angeles and stops in Newton each day. Amtrak has a plan in place for detouring the train if needed.
"If they do, we will detour," said Marc Magliari, a spokesman for Amtrak. "If they don't, they won't. ... We are ready if they have to do so."
Amtrak has an agreement in place with the Union Pacific Railroad to allow for the use of those tracks between Hutchinson and Topeka. Amtrak will serve the sole missed stop — Newton — with chartered motorcoach.
No property damage has been reported yet, according to city and county officials, but there is still cause for concern and plenty for county residents — especially those in Sedgwick and Halstead — to be wary of as water levels are monitored through the weekend.
"Everything may be receding at their property for now, but that doesn't mean that what is upriver hasn't got here yet," said Sedgwick City Administrator Ed Patton. "Be alert and be prepared to get out if that's what you've got to do."
"Be aware of what's going to happen around you, anticipate and try to take some proactive measures," Denny said. "Our concerns lies more with accessibility. How do we get emergency services to somebody who's stranded in high water and how do we get those people out of the high water?"
Check the city of Halstead's Facebook page for updates on the Little Arkansas River's water level over the next couple of days and www.harveycounty.com for an updated map on roads impacted by high water/flooding.