More than two weeks of heavy rains have produced floods in a large area of the central United States. From central Texas to Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri, rivers have come up over their banks and flooded towns and farmland. At least 12 deaths have resulted. VOA's Greg Flakus has more from Houston.
In Texas, flooding has forced people from their homes all through the central part of the state, from San Antonio in the south to Fort Worth in the north. The rains continue in some areas making it difficult for residents to return to devastated areas.
Bands of storm clouds have moved up across Oklahoma and on into Kansas, Missouri and northwest Arkansas, spreading rain over a wide area of the plains and producing floods in several places. Nearly half the residents of Osawatomie, Kansas had to be evacuated after two creeks that run on either side of the community of 4,600 people flowed over their banks.
Farther south, on the border with Oklahoma, flood waters devastated a good part of the town of Coffeyville, forcing the shutdown of an important regional oil refinery.
Speaking to VOA by telephone, Coffeyville City Manager Jeff Morris said flood waters have been contaminated by oil from the refinery. "Coffeyville Resources is located on the northeast side of our community. They did an emergency shutdown or very quick shutdown as well when reports of the river coming up rapidly came in. They did have a tank that leaked a number of gallons of crude oil into the river," he said.
Other sources estimate the amount of oil that spilled into the flood waters at over one thousand barrels. The refinery normally handles over 100,000 barrels a day. Company officials are now meeting with state officials and officials from the federal Environmental Protection Agency to deal with the contamination problem. There is no word yet on how long the refinery will remain out of operation.
The situation in Coffeyville was helped by a let up in the rain Monday. Jeff Morris says that will allow local officials to get a better idea of how many people in the town were forced to abandon their homes.
"We are estimating right now approximately a fourth of our community, which is approximately 2,500 people. That is purely an estimate right now. We are still trying to count roof tops that were affected. Our first concern is public safety, getting the people out. Now we are trying to catch up on the statistics of things."
Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius declared the flooded communities a disaster area and spent much of the day Monday surveying the damage in person.
Some of the areas where heavy rain fell in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas over the past couple of weeks have recorded near record levels of rain. At least part of the areas hit by rains in Texas and Oklahoma had experienced drought in recent years and the rains have helped replenish lakes and reservoirs. But most residents of the stricken area are ready to see an end to the current rains so that they can dry out and assess the damage to their homes.