The Labor Day flooding hit much of Manhattan. This is how it happened.

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Parts of Manhattan, Kan. were flooded after after a severe rainstorm passed through on Labor Day. Some businesses and homes had several feet of water on the first floors. (Logan Wassall | Collegian Media Group)

Seemingly incessant rain that occurred in Riley County over the Labor Day weekend left hundreds evacuating their homes and many more without power for a period of time.

The city of Manhattan maintains more than 740 acres of land in an area prone to flooding. The less development in the area, the better a floodplain can control the water.

Since Manhattan lies right next to a body of water, much of it is part of a watershed, according to the Kansas Forest Service.

Though Manhattan has prepared for overflowing rivers and heavy rainfall, Chad Bunger, assistant director of community development for the city, said there is next to nothing to be done to stop flooding.

The devastation that happened over the weekend was the result of a very significant rainstorm, Bunger said, resulting in nine inches of water in about six hours.

“If you think of Wildcat Creek and any other watershed like a bathtub, Manhattan is right next to the drain; all the water that falls into the watershed comes through Manhattan,” Bunger said. “Last week there was good rain, so the ground was saturated; it didn’t absorb and then ran off.”

Bunger said the most the city can do is protect properties from damage that is sustained from the violent water. However, he said, the city cannot control what owners of rural property choose to do with their land, which plays a substantial role in determining how much water runs into Manhattan soil.

“We have great partnerships,” Bunger said. “But we’re still at the mercy of mother nature and what others do with their land, and how water runs off that land off and into the county.”

Bunger said the city had some prior arrangements created to prevent further damage from occurring to properties that have been prone to damage.

In the case of more rain, Bunger said the city keeps track of assessments to determine new and old damage. With more rain in the forecast, Bunger said the city will continue to assess the damage from potential floods.

“If we have another event, God forbid, we will respond like we did,” Bunger said. “We will get involved and become active and address things as they come. After that we will inspect to see if the damage is worse.”

Flooding “escalated quickly”

Pat Collins, Riley County emergency management director, said emergency responders had little time to prepare.

“We didn’t even know the water was coming,” Collins said. “I got a call at 3:59 in the morning from the weather service. They said that the gage at Keats had raised three feet in the last hour. We have action triggers. When it gets to 14, that’s a trigger. It went from 14 to 17 so quickly. At 18, the water goes in houses.”

Based on the water levels at Keats, a township five miles west of Manhattan, Collins said estimations were made about how much water would come through Riley County.

The numbers were looking to be about 27 feet, which ultimately, warranted the recruiting of more police officers, firemen in addition to highway patrol, Collins said.

“It escalated quickly from there,” Collins said. “It was 5:29 a.m. when we sent out the first mass notification system and started the evacuation.”

Collins said two police officers and six or so firemen went from door to door to warn those at the highest risk.

Brian Force, a firefighter at Manhattan Fire Department, was one of the firefighters on the scene evacuating the mobile home park in the 2500 block of Farm Bureau Rd.

“We were initially tasked with knocking on doors to alert people to leave their homes due to rising flood waters, but then switched to rescuing people that were stranded in their homes due to the quickly rising waters,” Force said. “We had to carry four children through swift water to dry land then had to assist the boat with getting in and removing a couple of elderly people.”

RCPD Capt. Richard Fink said many local residents of Manhattan aided in the evacuation.

“I was impressed and thankful for the outpouring of help from the citizens and businesses of our community,” Fink said. “These people provided everything from boats to bottled water. I think it is a sign of a very strong healthy community when neighbors help neighbors in times of need.”

University aids displaced students

Jalen Williams, freshman in business administration, was one of many students evacuated from their homes at around 5:30 a.m. Monday.

“I went to sleep,” Williams said. “When I woke up I was standing in water that came up to my calf.”

To help students affected by the flooding, K-State’s Office of Student Life set up relief programs and has been helping students cope with the stress of evacuating from their homes. The level of need has varied from student to student, said Heather Reed, assistant vice president in the office.

“I’ve been here in Manhattan for 15 years working at Student Life, and there have been three times that area has flooded,” Reed said. “I think this is the worst.”

“Some lost everything,” Reed said. “Some people were on the second floor, so they didn’t lose anything, but the building has been evacuated, and their cars were totally underwater. Some had minor damage, total loss or the whole gamut, depending on where they were.”

Along with a few other groups including the Department of Housing and Dining and K-State Police, the Office of Student Life created a hub where affected students could seek out assistance.

“We opened an emergency response center in the union for any students who wanted to come in if they needed housing or support,” Reed said. “We wanted to be able to have them come and to be able to work with them.”

The Office of Student Life team also helped students coordinate any missed classes with their professors.

“They may have to miss some class this week to go move stuff out at whatever time the water recedes,” Reed said. “Our faculty are so great when they have a verified situation for a student — in general. It’s typical our faculty are going to bend over backwards for our students.”

K-State’s financial aid office also offered displaced students short-term emergency loans.

Lt. Bradli Millington of the K-State Police Department said the department worked in unison with the city of Manhattan to address the situation smoothly and efficiently.

“There was mutual aid the county asked for so we started calling back people to help cover shifts and help in the city if asked; we had to call in extra officers,” Millington said. “Once we figured out what was going on, we all got together here and figured out where the county was going to have shelters.”

Millington said he thinks this was the first incidence in his time at K-State that an emergency response team needed to be assembled and urged students to be wary of the flood water.

“We want to make sure everybody stays safe,” Millington said. “In those high water areas — stay out of the water. I’d really like to emphasize ‘turn around, don’t drown.'”

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