‘So much land under so much water’: extreme flooding is drowning parts of the midwest
The water surged about 80 miles down the Arkansas River and into another manmade lake, the Keystone. But after weeks of rain, Keystone was struggling with flows from a second unregulated river even before the overflow from Kaw arrived.
By early last week, the Keystone engineers were releasing 275,000 cubic feet of water a second, more than double the rate of water over Niagara Falls and the second largest outflow in the dam’s history. The waterfall through the gates threw up a huge cloud of spray and let loose a bubbling torrent down the river, overpowering levees protecting part of Sand Springs a few miles away.
‘It took over quick’
Sam Duvall and Lisa Gaines were living in a mobile home in the Meadow Valley neighbourhood. Theirs was one of five trailers, beyond which was what Duval calls a “real nice house”.
“They were an older couple and apparently they had lived there for 40 or 50 years. We see them moving a U-Haul in two days before any of the rest of us knew what was going on,” he said.
Duvall, 43, and Gaines, 49, soon found out.
It was growing like two feet every hour. Fast. Now you can’t even see the house. It’s completely engulfed
“We were about 75ft from the water when the river’s at its normal state. When it started coming, it took over quick. It was growing like two feet every hour. Fast. Now you can’t even see the house. It’s completely engulfed,” Duvall said.
The couple got about three hours’ notice to leave, from police who banged on the door. They filled a couple of suitcases and some small bags and fled. By then, the water was touching the back of their home.
“I grabbed my important papers,” said Gaines. “That was really it.”
The couple moved into a motel just up the road, close to their jobs. Duvall is a cook and Gaines a waitress. The following day the police were at the door again, saying the water was still rising and to be prepared to leave. By then the river had engulfed most of Meadow Valley.
“There’s 153 houses there and only a dozen that don’t have water in them,” said police captain Todd Enzbrenner.
The rest of the town is protected by levees that held their own but were tested as never before. In 1986 a huge flood forced engineers at Keystone Lake to release 305,000 cubic feet of water per second but that only lasted for 12 hours. This time, although the flow was marginally less, the river was pounding the levees for 72 hours. National guardsmen patrolled the 20-mile length, looking for signs they might give way.
“Nothing compares to this one,” said Enzbrenner. “This is the most river water that’s ever been on the levees for this extended period of time. But there they are. They’re doing the job. They’re holding up.”
The dam engineers dialled back the amount of water flowing out of the dam at the weekend but with more storms predicted the threat remains, not just to Sand Springs but to neighbouring Tulsa, where a large part of the waterfront has flooded including parts of the sprawling River Spirit Casino.
Further downriver, nearly 2,500 people were forced from their homes as the Arkansas rose to the highest levels since 1943 at Muskogee and then broke its banks. Just across the state border in Arkansas, hundreds of homes were flooded in the state’s second largest city, Fort Smith, even before the river crested there at a record 41ft on Saturday.
‘The house is probably ruined’
For some, the crisis has been far more drawn out.
Richard Oswald farms in northern Missouri. In December, he spoke to the Guardian about the increasing difficulty of farming amid dramatically changing weather patterns, with longer and more intense rains leaving fields perpetually soaked and disrupting the planting season.
Then came the “bomb cyclone”, in March. Huge floodwaters carried large chunks of ice into the Spencer dam in northern Nebraska. The pressure of the water and the battering from the ice broke the 90-year-old structure, collapsing the dam and unleashing its contents in a huge surge. The subsequent flash flood merged into the Missouri River, already brimming with water from melting snow running over frozen ground in Iowa and South Dakota. The wall of water swept away levees to sink towns and farms, including Oswald’s.
“We had a record crest on the Missouri River here just across the river from where I live at Brownsville, Nebraska,” he said. “It topped the levees. After about two or three days of topping we began to have levee failures and we had more levee failures than I’ve ever seen here.”
Photograph: Nati Harnik/AP
The water washed across his farm, engulfing every bit of land except for 500 acres on a terraced hillside. It also swamped his house.
“My home where I was born, where I’ve lived all my life, that’s been through three previous floods, that has never been harmed by the river, never had water on the ground floor, my home for the first time ever had water on the ground floor,” he said.
“I went back three times. All the roads were flooded but I could get through it with a big tractor. I think the house is probably ruined the way the mould is. The water was in the basement as well as on the ground floor. I didn’t have time to move any of my appliances or furniture or really very few of my clothes.”
Oswald’s priority was more than $1m worth of machinery, some of it highly technical like the massive semi-autonomous combine harvester. He called his son and they dragged planters and cultivators, irrigation systems and grain trailers, generators and fuel storage tanks along roads increasingly swamped by water and mud.
“I tied propane tanks to trees or whatever was close so they wouldn’t float away,” he said.
The roads were so bad all winter and into the spring that there was just no way to get that corn out
All of it had to be got out because Oswald’s farm insurance did not cover damage to machinery from flooding. It meant he had to abandon $80,000 worth of corn harvested in January and stored in four large bins.
“I probably wouldn’t have had it there at all except that the roads were so bad all winter and into the spring that there was just no way to get that corn out,” he said.
Grain silos collapsed by flood waters dot the landscape along the path of the Missouri River, a visible symbol of the toll on farming.
Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union, said the flooding brings yet more pressure.
“Net farm income and the US is down 50% in the last six years,” he said. “ You have trade being disrupted which makes net farm income an even larger issue. And then on top of that you get this really extraordinary beginning to a crop year that has resulted in literally thousands of farmers being in a really untenable position of not being able to plant crops. The planting window has closed in lots of places and is rapidly closing and others and there is really no end in sight.”
‘It is so wet’
Corn production is expected to be way below the agriculture department’s prediction earlier this year of a bumper crop. As it is, less than half of the typical acreage has been planted so far, with Indiana at one-fifth of normal levels.
“Soybeans is even worse,” said Johnson.
Kansas has harvested just 22% of soybean acreage so far this year compared with 63% at this time in 2018.
Last year, the National Climate Assessment warned of heavier rains, along with droughts and hotter summers, causing “substantial damages” to midwestern agriculture.
Johnson said the dramatic falls in production are unlikely to have an impact on food supplies because most US corn and soya goes to feed livestock or make ethanol, and there are alternatives for both.
Photograph: Gene Blevins/Reuters
“I’m not worried that we’re going to end up with the food shortages on top of this. But it does create a lot of chaos in the market,” he said.
“It is so wet. There’s so much land that’s under so much water that you’d literally have to have the rain stop, the sun come out, the wind blow, humidity be low and even then you’d have I think millions of acres of land that would have to go unplanted because they’re just too waterlogged. So it’s a piling on of circumstances all of which are beyond the control of individual farmers and ranchers. That’s why there is so much stress out at farm country right now.”
Oswald is not sure what will happen after the waters finally recede.
“I’ve seen erosion going on out in the fields,” he said. “I have seen water flowing across the fields washing soil away. It’s creating a lot of damage, more damage than I saw in 2011. I’ve seen sand in fields where I didn’t see sand in 2011. I think there’s going to be a lot of damage. A lot of farms are really badly impacted.”
As for his house, Oswald thinks it is doomed. At first he moved in with his fiancee, Karen. In normal times she lives 20 minutes away but so many roads were closed it took him nearly three hours to get between her house and the farm each day. So he moved in with his sister.
Duvall and Gaines, the couple flooded out of their mobile home in Sand Springs, found shelter with the Red Cross at a church in Tulsa.
“We’ve lost our jobs,” said Gaines. “We’ve lost everything in our home. We’re trying to find jobs real quick so we can try to get some money now. We’re trying to get on our feet. It’s kind of scary not knowing what’s going to happen.”
Duvall reflected on the cause of all the rain.
“The weather seems to be more unusual every year to me,” he said. “Something’s changing. I don’t know what it is.”
Right now, though, he has more immediate concerns.
“I need to find a job. I’ll be up at 5.30am tomorrow to go around and see if anybody will hire me.”
By Shounak Dasgupta and Munsif Vengattil
NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India warned of severe heat in northern and central areas on Monday, following similar extreme weather on Sunday.
Of the 15 hottest places in the world in the past 24 hours, eight were in India with the others in neighbouring Pakistan, according to weather monitoring website El Dorado.
Churu, a city in Rajasthan, recorded the country’s highest temperature of 48.9 Celsius (120 Fahrenheit) on Monday, according to the Meteorological Department.
Churu has issued a heat wave advisory and government hospitals have prepared emergency wards with extra air conditioners, coolers and medicines, said Ramratan Sonkariya, additional district magistrate for Churu.
Water is also being poured on the roads of Churu, known as the gateway to the Thar desert, to keep the temperature down and prevent them from melting, Sonkariya added.
A farmer from Sikar district in Rajasthan died on Sunday due to heatstroke, state government officials said.
Media reported on Friday that 17 had died over the past three weeks due to a heatwave in Telangana. A state official said it would confirm the number of deaths only after the causes had been ascertained.
The temperature in New Delhi touched 44.6C (112.3F) on Sunday. One food delivery app, Zomato, asked its customers to greet delivery staff with a glass of cold water.
Heat wave warnings were issued on Monday for some places in western Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh state.
The monsoon, which brings down the heat, is likely to begin on the southern coast on June 6, the weather office said last month.
The three-month, pre-monsoon season, which ended on May 31, was the second driest in the last 65 years, India’s only private forecaster, Skymet, said, with a national average of 99 mm of rain against the normal average of 131.5 mm for the season.
(Reporting by Shounak Dasgupta and Munsif Vengattil; Editing by Martin Howell, Robert Birsel)
Washington (AFP) – The US Congress overcame months of delays to finally pass a $19.1 billion relief package Monday to help victims of flooding, wildfires and hurricanes that have devastated communities from Puerto Rico to California.
The House of Representatives, back in session after a week-long break, easily passed the measure and sent it to President Donald Trump, who is expected to sign it into law.
The package will fund infrastructure development, rural community assistance, and disaster damage mitigation in the US island territory of Puerto Rico and states such as California, Florida, North and South Carolina, Iowa and Texas.
It also provides some $3 billion to farmers who lost crops due to natural disasters.
The lopsided vote of 354 to 58 belied the months of dispute over disaster relief.
Trump himself weighed in last month to express criticism about the amount of funding earmarked for Puerto Rico.
But after a deal was struck between Republican and Democratic leaders, the White House signalled Trump was willing to sign the measure — even though it did not include $4.5 billion that Trump and other Republicans wanted for border security, including for construction of a wall along the US border with Mexico.
The disaster relief cleared the Senate last month. House Democratic leaders had hoped to push it through by consent, without a recorded vote, before the break, but Republicans objected to the manuever on three separate occasions.
„I am pleased that we have finally rejected the political stunts & grandstanding that have made it difficult to deliver much-needed relief to Americans struck by recent natural disasters,” House Appropriations Committee chairwoman Nita Lowey said.
Despite billions of federal dollars already allocated to Puerto Rico, the island is still reeling from two hurricanes which hit in quick succession in 2017, killing 3,000 people and devastating the island’s infrastructure.
Senator Richard Shelby, the Republican who helped shepherd the bill through the Senate, said the measure took „longer than I’ve ever heard” to pass.
„A lot of people waited too long” for relief, he said. „I don’t think it was our best show.”
The skies in Edmonton, Canada were recently so red and smoky that a local meteorologist told NASA „it looked like we were on Mars.”
Now, that prodigious wildfire smoke has left Canada, streamed thousands of miles across the Atlantic Ocean, and passed over the UK. On Monday morning, the UK Met Office posted imagery of the North American wildfire smoke sailing over the island nation.
The early-season Canadian fires, which smothered much of Alberta in wildfire smoke in May, are consistent with wildfire research which concludes that, as temperatures climb and fire weather increases, the burning season is expected to grow longer and fuel „larger and more intense fires.”
„The climate is changing,” Mike Flannigan, a fire scientist at the University of Alberta, told Mashable in December, after the destructive 2018 fire season. „We’re getting more extreme weather for fire, and there are more people on the landscape,” he added, noting that the problem is confounded by people moving into fire country.
CARO, Mich. (AP) — The Latest on Midwest flooding (all times local):
Vice President Mike Pence plans to visit homes damaged by flooding in Oklahoma as residents and volunteers work toward recovery.
Pence tweeted Monday that he and his wife, Karen Pence, will travel Tuesday to Tulsa. Pence said he will offer federal assistance to those who have been impacted by flooding that has waterlogged homes along the swollen Arkansas River. Damage has extended from the Tulsa area downstream into Arkansas.
The river is slowly cresting, though more rain is forecast this week. Additional rain is not expected to raise water levels higher than where they crested. Major flooding is expected to subside within a few weeks.
President Donald Trump declared a major disaster in Oklahoma on Saturday. Officials say six people died from severe weather this spring.
Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke toured flood-damaged homes Sunday.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has declared a state of emergency for another county after recent flooding.
Monday’s declaration makes state resources available to help the local response and recovery effort in Tuscola County. Heavy rainfall on May 25 caused widespread flooding in the county, damaging infrastructure and private property in the county located about 80 miles (129 kilometers) north of Detroit.
Last week, teams started working together to assess damage in the Detroit area due to spring flooding. Whitmer earlier announced a state of emergency in Wayne County, which includes Detroit.
Areas along Lake St. Clair and western Lake Erie also have been hit by flooding in recent weeks due to winds and rainfall amid high water on the Great Lakes.
The surging Missouri and Mississippi rivers are overtopping and breaking some agricultural levees as floodwaters make their way downstream, forcing evacuations in some rural areas.
The Army Corps of Engineers says a Mississippi River levee that protects an area near the 1,400-person town of Winfield, Missouri, breached Sunday, forcing evacuations in a rural area.
On Saturday, the Illinois River overtopped two levees that protect a combined 1,500 acres in the western part of that state. And sandbags were intentionally removed from a farm levee along the Mississippi River near Ste. Genevieve, Missouri, to allow water through and remove pressure downstream.
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson was touring flooded areas Monday in the northeast part of the state, where there have been around a dozen water rescues. Statewide, nearly 400 roads are closed, including part of U.S. 136.
This version of the Latest corrects the 10:40 a.m. item 2nd paragraph to say a Mississippi River levee not Missouri River.
The swollen Missouri and Mississippi rivers are closing hundreds of roads and inundating homes and businesses.
Locks and dams upstream of St. Louis are shut down as the Mississippi River crests at its second-highest level on record in some areas, straining agriculture levees.
Floodgates also have been closed in St. Louis in advance of the river cresting there Thursday.
The high water already is causing problems. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that several hotels that were crowded with visitors for the Stanley Cup Final and Cardinals-Cubs baseball games were left without hot water Sunday after too much water overwhelmed a pump station.
Along the Missouri River, water levels were falling in Jefferson City after a crest that flooded railroad tracks and airport property. Statewide, nearly 400 roads are closed.