ATCHISON, Kansas — It’s called Atchison County Emergency Management, with “management” as the operative term, not prevention, for a reason: Weather emergencies often can’t be prevented.
“There’s no plan, or there’s no way to predict what Mother Nature is going to throw at us,” said Wes Lanter, the agency’s director. “And we had a large amount of snow this year as well as the people up north of us did. So, we have plans for flooding, but there’s no way to predict it.”
It came fast and furious, and local governments in Northeast Kansas quickly realized that the storms and flooding of 2019 are beyond them, and that they would need national aid. Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly filed to receive that aid on Monday, asking President Donald Trump to issue a “major declaration” and trigger federal funding for 63 Kansas counties.
Doniphan County Emergency Management coordinator Julie Meng said the data compares with 1993, but the human experience reveals that the region hasn’t seen anything like this before.
“In some ways, yes, this is an unprecedented event,” she said. “Especially up north in Nebraska, I mean, it came faster than anyone expected. The rain melted the snowpack faster than anyone expected. Our eyes are always on the north. Yes, if it rains here it will make conditions wet here, but it is the north that determines how high the river will rise.”
It is the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ task to regulate this as much as possible, and it is the federal government’s task now to respond.
Meng emphasized that the time of greatest urgency has passed, and that continual surveys reflect confidence in Doniphan County levees, which make the most difference between a flood-protected lowland area at the state’s northeast corner and a waterlogged mess.
Yet in Doniphan County, pumps must run on a continual basis to keep water that normally flows into the river from ruining yet more property; the floodgates along the Mighty Mo’s eastern banks are closed and must remain that way for now. This is an expensive operation over time.
“When we shut the flood gates, the eastern portion of the county becomes like a fishbowl,” Meng said.
Atchison County’s bluffs protect the city of Atchison, holding about two-thirds of the county’s population, and most private property. Yet Lake Perry flooding is affecting the southwest, Lanter said, and a tornado tore up rural areas during a May severe thunderstorm outbreak.
The timeline is not yet certain, but Lanter and Meng have been coordinating with multiple levels of government all spring on receiving aid distributions. Lanter expects a Federal Emergency Management Team to arrive later this year to check his homework, in a way, before the county government can get paid back for the aid it is distributing to local residents.
“We are jumping on board to try to get some federal assistance,” he said.