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River could hit 29 feet
Region undergoes road closures, evacuations for second time this year

A rapidly deteriorating situation on Northwest Missouri rivers forced officials to order the closing of Interstate 29 for the second time in two days and to upgrade an evacuation in Craig to mandatory.

The Missouri River could hit 29 feet today in St. Joseph, making for one of the five-highest river crests in recorded history.

After briefly reopening, Interstate 29 closed to through traffic north of St. Joseph again late Wednesday morning as flooding worsened in southwest Iowa. Many communities are seeing the floodwaters rise again, including Craig, Missouri, where authorities issued a mandatory evacuation at 10 a.m. Wednesday morning.

The town in Holt County, which was seeing flooding from the Tarkio River, had been under a voluntary evacuation order.

The Missouri Department of Transportation closed I-29 at the 57-mile marker north of St. Joseph, just a few hours after the roadway was reopened. “We wish we were kidding,” MoDOT said in a statement.

In all, up to 300 roads are closed because of flooding in Missouri, according to MoDOT. The Livingston County Sheriff’s Office reported that U.S. Highway 65 was closing south of Chillicothe. U.S. Highway 36 was under threat and down to one lane in some areas near Chllicothe. Other closures included Missouri Highway 45 south of Rushville and Kansas Highway 7 from Iowa Point, Kansas, to the Iowa state line.

Earlier Wednesday, the Missouri State Highway Patrol conducted water rescues in two counties after a day of heavy rain caused flooding and road closures throughout the region.

Troopers responded early Wednesday to an area two miles east of Brimson, Missouri, near the Thompson River in Grundy County. A vehicle was trapped on a bridge, with at least one person inside. Patrol dispatchers reported the person in the vehicle was rescued and is safe.

Troopers also encountered a vehicle stranded at Missouri Highway 6 and State Route W in Buchanan County. They were able to bring the person in that vehicle to safety.

The flooding came after a day of storms and heavy rain throughout the region. A large and dangerous tornado touched down on the western edge of Kansas City, Kansas, late Tuesday, the National Weather Service office reported. At least a dozen people were admitted to the hospital in Lawrence, Kansas, with damage also reported in the towns of Linwood, Bonner Springs and Pleasant Grove in Kansas. Douglas County Emergency Management said as of early afternoon on Wednesday that 17 injuries had been reported. Most of the damage in Lawrence occurred just south of the city’s limits in fairly rural area.

In St. Joseph, Riverside Road was closed between Frederick Boulevard and Gene Field Road because of water on the roadway. Frederick also was closed a mile past that intersection to the east. Just before 7 p.m., the area around McArthur and Waterworks roads was closed by the city. Keven Schneider, the superintendent of streets for the city, said more closures are possible but that none were currently planned as of mid-afternoon Wednesday.

MoDOT also closed portions of U.S. Highway 59 in Atchison County. Areas east of St. Joseph are seeing major flooding, with the Grand River at or near record flood stage at Pattonsburg and Chillicothe.

In Atchison County, the Tarkio River was nearing a record flood level of just over 28 feet while the Missouri River at St. Joseph was expected to crest today at 27.8 feet.


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St. Joseph could see decreased school enrollment

A demographic study predicts a gradual decline in enrollment in the St. Joseph School District over the next 10 years.

The study, done by Business Information Services LLC, showed multiple projections for future enrollment from now until 2029. These predict anywhere from 3 to 13 percent fewer students enrolling in St. Joseph schools, which have lost 608 students in the last five years.

President of the Board of Education Seth Wright said the board was expecting these kind of results.

“There really were no surprises,” Wright said. “I think we see a community that is getting older, that is not getting younger and we have a declining student population.”

The study does show an aging community to be a factor.

It showed that birth rates have fallen by 17 percent during the last 10 years, but fewer kindergarten kids have enrolled. In 2004, there were 1,115 births and in 2009 kindergarten enrollment was 938. In 2013, there were 1,137 births and in 2018 enrollment was only 820, more than a hundred lower than in 2004.

Superintendent of Schools Doug Van Zyl also said he wasn’t surprised by the data.

He believes part of the reason that the numbers are falling is because people have more options for schooling now.

“In this day and age, people have the ability to go to some different places,” Van Zyl said. “(They can send their kids to) charter schools, home school their kids, be able to choose private or parochial schools, if that’s what they think is the best thing to do for their students.”

The study claims that in some areas, more than half of the children in the district are not attending St. Joseph schools.

Van Zyl said part of the issue may be the reputation that the district obtained after controversy in its recent history.

“I think it’s that process of continuing to build trust, continuing to show people what we’re doing and what benefits there are to being part of a school system like the St. Joseph School District, because of the opportunities we can provide kids,” Van Zyl said.

The study also predicts overcrowding issues in the high schools in the future due to the closure of Humboldt and Lake Contrary last year.

Data shows that the middle schools are currently overcrowded, which could transfer over to high schools in several years.

Van Zyl said the declining student population will help with that issue, but future conversations may have to be had about changes to infrastructure that could help.


National
After several quiet years, tornadoes erupt in United States

INDIANAPOLIS — After several quiet years, tornadoes have erupted in the United States over the last two weeks as a volatile mix of warm, moist air from the Southeast and persistent cold from the Rockies clashed and stalled over the Midwest.

On Tuesday, the U.S. set a new record of 12 consecutive days with at least eight tornadoes, based on preliminary data from the National Weather Service. The previous record for consecutive days with that many tornadoes was an 11-day stretch that ended on June 7, 1980.

“We’re getting big counts on a lot of these days and that is certainly unusual,” said Patrick Marsh, warning coordination meteorologist for the federal Storm Prediction Center.

The National Weather Service received at least 27 more reports of tornadoes Tuesday, suggesting that the record for consecutive days would be broken once the official totals are counted.

The weather service has received 934 tornado reports so far this year, up from the yearly average of 743 observed tornadoes. More than 500 of those reports came in the last 30 days. The actual number is likely lower, however, because some of the reports probably come from different witnesses who spot the same twister.

The U.S. has experienced a lull in the number of tornadoes since 2012, with tornado counts tracking at or below average each year and meteorologists still working to figure out why. Marsh said this month’s uptick is rare, but the country saw similar increases in 2003, 2004, 2008 and 2011 that were highly unusual at the time.

He said his agency is trying to determine why the country is seeing another surge in tornadoes after the quiet spell but doesn’t have enough data to confirm whether climate change or other forces played a role. Scientists say climate change is responsible for more intense and more frequent extreme weather such as storms, droughts, floods and fires, but without extensive study they cannot directly link a single weather event to the changing climate.

“From our point of view, there’s nothing we can definitively say as to why we’re in this current pattern,” Marsh said. “I know people want to make the jump to climate change, but tornadoes are rare in the grand scheme of things, and you need a really, really long data set (to draw any conclusions).”

The recent surge in tornado activity over the past two weeks was driven by high pressure over the Southeast and an unusually cold trough over the Rockies that forced warm, moist air into the central U.S., sparking repeated severe thunderstorms and periodic tornadoes.

“Neither one of these large systems —the high over the Southeast or the trough over the Rockies— are showing signs of moving,” Marsh said. “It’s a little unusual for them to be so entrenched this late in the season.”

Those conditions are ripe for the kind of tornadoes that have swept across the Midwest in the last two weeks, said Cathy Zapotocny, a meteorologist for the weather service in Valley, Nebraska. Zapotocny said the unstable atmosphere helped fuel many of the severe winter storms and subsequent flooding that ravaged Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri earlier this year.

“We’ve been stuck in this pattern since February,” she said.

Zapotocny said the number of tornadoes this year was “basically normal” until the surge this week. May is typically the month with the highest incidence of tornadoes, usually in the Plains and Midwestern states collectively known as Tornado Alley, where most of this year’s twisters have hit.

Most of the confirmed tornadoes were rated as less-intense EF0, EF1 and EF2s on the Enhanced Fujita Scale. But 23 were classified as EF3 tornadoes, with wind speeds of 136-165 mph. The strongest confirmed tornado this year was the EF4 tornado that killed 23 people in Alabama in March.

So far this year, 38 people have died in 10 tornadoes in the United States, including a combined seven within the last week in Iowa, Missouri, Oklahoma and Ohio.

The relative quiet in recent years followed the massive tornado that killed 161 people and injured more than 1,100 in Joplin, Missouri, in 2011. The EF5 storm packed winds in excess of 200 mph and was on the ground for more than 22 miles.

Monday’s outbreak was unusual because it occurred over a particularly wide geographic area. Eight states were affected by two regional outbreaks, in the high Plains and the Ohio River Valley.

Tornadoes strafed the Kansas City metropolitan area straddling Kansas and Missouri Tuesday night, barely a week after a massive tornado ripped through the Missouri state capital of Jefferson City.


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LIFE STORY An ongoing series of articles about noteworthy peoplefrom the News-Press readership area
Entombed at sea, St. Joseph sailor recalled

By Ken Newton | News-Press NOW

As was the case for so many on the USS Frank E. Evans, death came in the middle of the night for Seaman Steven Allen Guyer.

The St. Joseph sailor, not even a year removed from Benton High School and just weeks into his service on the Navy destroyer, had been in a forward berthing compartment when the collision occurred.

On maneuvers in the South China Sea, an Australian aircraft carrier called the HMAS Melbourne rammed the American vessel midships, cutting it in half.

The half where Guyer bunked sank into thousands of feet of water. His would be one of 74 deaths in the accident.

Kay Currier does not want people to forget.

It grates on her, and a great many others, that Guyer and the others who died on the Evans do not have their names inscribed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C.

The U.S. Defense Department judged that the Navy personnel who lost their lives 50 years ago do not meet the criteria for inclusion in the granite. The incident, they say, happened outside a combat zone.

The St. Joseph woman finds this absurd.

“It doesn’t make sense to any of us who lost someone,” Currier said. “They were there to participate in the Vietnam War. ... Who’s going to argue with that?”

Currier and Guyer had been friends in the time before his Navy enlistment in February 1969. They lived in different parts of St. Joseph and met when Guyer’s best friend moved to Kay’s neighborhood.

“He lived in the South End. I lived clear up in the North End, and we would get a bus and meet,” she recalled.

The Moose Lodge had teen dances on Friday nights, and the two became regulars.

She knew that Guyer would not have enough credits to be a 1969 Benton graduate and that he intended to join the Navy.

His brother, Gary, said that two of the Guyer siblings had earlier joined the Air Force, as he would do a couple of years later. “He never really spoke of it,” Gary said about Steven’s Navy ambitions. “He had some high school friends that were maybe thinking about it.”

Gary said his mother consented to Steven’s enlistment, signing because he had been under the required age. Steven went to basic training in San Diego. His letters to Currier, which she keeps in their original envelopes, indicated that the military life agreed with him.

Southern California proved a paradise for someone who enjoyed swimming. He loved the marching, never tired of it, he said in one letter. But he hated all the inoculations required for going to Southeast Asia.

Before his deployment, Steven got leave and came home to St. Joseph. “That’s the last I got to see him or hear from him,” Gary said.

When the sailor returned to California, he shipped out from Long Beach, bound for Subic Bay in the Philippines. On May 17, the Evans received him as a crew member.

“I feel rather good I’m going,” Steven wrote in one letter. “I’m not even scared I’m going.”

The Evans, serving in its third war, came off the gun line of Vietnam to take part in a training mission called Operation Sea Spirit.

The Melbourne sailed as the centerpiece of a convoy that included destroyers from the United States, Great Britain and New Zealand. On the night of June 2-3, a moon shone on the dead-calm South China Sea near Vietnam. The ships had carried out their movements four times without incident.

On the fifth time, the order came for the Evans to again assume the position of plane guard, circling back from its forward status on the port side (left) to about 1,000 feet to the stern of the Melbourne.

Instead of steering left, this time the Evans went starboard (right).

Both vessels recognized the coming danger and took action to avoid a collision. However, those at the helm of the two ships maneuvered in a manner that inadvertently steered them into one another’s way.

Ten times the size of the Evans, the Melbourne plowed right through. By some accounts, the forward section of the destroyer had disappeared below the water in three minutes.

At age 18, the St. Joseph sailor would be eternally entombed among a group known as “The Lost 74.”

Word came quickly to St. Joseph.

“I don’t know who called my parents, but they were the ones who told me,” Currier said. “I remember I went to my dad’s car and locked myself in. I didn’t want to believe it.”

Even after a half-century, the loss still smarts.

“I get a little emotional,” Currier said. “He was my first boyfriend.”

Gary Guyer also reflects on his big brother.

“There’s probably not a day that goes by that I don’t think about him, what he would have been if he lived,” he said.

Earlier this year, the General Assembly of New Jersey took up a resolution spelling out reasons the dead crewmen of the USS Frank E. Evans should be more fully and properly recognized.

Currier smiled on learning this, believing the sacrifices of her friend and his fellow sailors might one day get their due.


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