Halstead Mayor Bill Ewert was able to be at the Law Enforcement Center in Newton on Friday to help give updates on flooding in Harvey County. It was no small feat, with flood gates closed around Halstead and a list of road closures that feels miles long for Harvey County.
Despite what has happened over the course of the past two weeks, Ewert was remarkably upbeat.
“One of the duties of being the mayor of Halstead — you have to control the weather for our special occasions. I have been pretty good at doing that, except I have failed the last month,” Ewert said. “... We are thankful that in 1973 and 1974 the citizens of Halstead decided to build a levee. ... It is keeping our town dry.”
All joking aside, a series of rain events — some of them quite heavy — have led to flooding throughout Harvey County. Damage estimates were in the hundreds of thousands of dollars after an initial round of flooding that began May 8.
Those estimates will increase as the county is in round two of flooding — and officials are hoping the weather can cut the area a break before things get much worse.
“We are teetering on a catastrophic event,” said Gary Denny, director of emergency management for Harvey County. “The message we want to send out to our citizens is have a plan, anticipate what these challenges might be if we teeter to the bad side. ... Develop that plan now, rather than wait for the event to happen.”
First responders have performed several water rescues. According to Denny, most of those are from vehicles overtaken by high water. One family was rescued from their home.
Both Halstead and Sedgwick have created evacuation plans if they are needed. Denny said watersheds are full, and there is no place for water to go right now.
“Any large amount of rainfall in a short amount of time will be a challenge for us,” Denny said.
The next few days do have rain in the forecast — as much as 10 inches between now and Tuesday, in some models.
“Over the next several days, all the way through Tuesday, we are forecasting storms to affect the area,” said Ken Cook, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Wichita.
There is also a threat of severe weather, including tornadoes, for each of those days. Cook said the storms need to keep moving — and if a cluster of storms sits over the area, it would be a “big problem.”
River levels are forecast to draw down, but heavy rains would stop that. That could lead to record river levels near Halstead and record flood levels in Sedgwick.
“You will see catastrophic flooding, and that is a fact,” Cook said. “... You could see unprecedented levels of flooding.”
The county got here after a series of rain events — and the last two heavy rain events were close enough together that floodwaters have not been able to recede much.
“Harvey County, this month alone we have averaged between 10 to 15 inches of rainfall in the county,” Cook said. “... What has occurred, there is a lot of flooding and things are at capacity. ... The period between the first heavy rain and second one was long enough that some floodwaters left the area. Right now that is not happening as fast. Each day that goes by where we do not get a significant amount of rain, the situation does improve.”