Residents given no warning of impending flood
Two homeowners who had to be rescued from their roof by their son and one who sat out high water overnight in his SUV were unaware that a decision to release water from Marion Reservoir would force them to grab what they could run.
County residents received no warning about the move by the Army Corps of Engineers other than a post on the county clerk’s Facebook page.
Loretta Looney, who lives near Florence and Monte Magathan 1823 Remington Rd., near Marion, both say they understand the Corps’ reasoning, they think residents in the floodplain needed to be warned.
“People could have died in this,” Looney said. “What if one of us, any of us that got flooded out, were to step outside, expecting the water not to be deep as it was, and went down river.”
“It’s not as important that I lost everything in my home. It’s just stuff. . . . It may take me a year to rebuild my house, but I can never replace a life.”
Randy Frank, Marion County’s emergency management director, says he was notified the morning of July 4 that the reservoir’s floodgates had been opened.
He says he called Sharon Omstead, director of planning and zoning and floodplain administrator for the county, and she posted a warning on social media.
Omstead said Frank called at about 10 a.m. At that time, the reservoir was letting out 1,094 cubic feet of water per second.
Omstead posted a notice both on the county clerk’s Facebook page, and her own private page and included a link so the announcement could be shared.
The post, which was shared nearly 78 times, reads as follows:
“The US Army Corp of Engineers are currently releasing water from the Marion Reservoir. Residents near the Cottonwood River should be aware that water will rise, causing possible flooding outside of the river banks. Roads may become impassable.
“Water is expected to rise at the Cottonwood River near Marion and near Florence, throughout today, Thursday, July 4th, and into the night.
“At this time, USACE is releasing the minimum amount necessary however, they may release greater amounts at any time.”
Five hours later, the flow had increased fivefold.
Omstead said residents also were also kept posted by Nixle, the county’s emergency email and text notification service, which is owned by Everbridge. Residents sign up on the county’s web page and are sent warnings from the National Weather Service in Wichita.
On July 4, Nixle sent out about seven emergency updates from the National Weather Service in Wichita.
- At 5:14 a.m. the weather service issued its first flash flood warning of July 4 for western Marion County until 8:15 a.m. It later extended the warning until 2 p.m.
- A flood warning issued for the northeastern part of the county at 8:25 a.m. became a flash flood warning for the entire northern part of the county at 9:26 a.m. At 1:56 p.m. the warning was extended until 5:45 p.m.
- At 4:05 p.m. the weather service issued a flood warning for the Cottonwood River near Florence.
Throughout the day, the Corps of Engineers dramatically increased the amount of water released from the reservoir — quadrupling it at noon and doubling it again at 5 p.m. and then increasing it by half again at 6 p.m.
A game warden notified the sheriff’s dispatcher at 5:19 p.m. that water was coming out of the reservoir at a high enough rate to flood Pawnee Rd. and asked that the road and bridge department be notified.
Undersheriff David Huntley said the Marion County sheriff’s office was not notified about the decision to release water from the reservoir.
“As far as I know we weren’t,” he said.
Monte Magathan drove home under clear skies and dry ground at 5 p.m. that day only to step out of his bed into knee-high water at 12:30 a.m. He grabbed his cat and spent the night in his GMC Yukon as water seeped through the floorboards of the truck.
Looney and her husband, Terry, had to climb on the roof of their home to escape rising water, said Mike Regnier, Marion fire chief.
Early morning July 5, the couple called their son, Dustin Looney, a Marion volunteer firefighter, and he raced to his parents in the department’s five-ton brush truck.
The enormous truck managed to fight its way through strong currents that left it swaying, Regnier said.
“When it started pushing the fire truck sideways, they decided that, maybe, it was too dangerous,” Loretta Looney said.
Friends have set up a GoFundMe page to help the couple who lost everything in the flooding. About $2,120 had been donated as of press time.
“I had vehicles inside of my horse pen,” Loretta said of the damage. “If we would have had any warning for any of this we would at least be staying in our camper, but instead it’s another vehicle that we didn’t get out and it has debris all around it.”
Last modified July 24, 2019