Water continued rising through the day Thursday as floods from a rain event that dropped as much as 12 inches west of Hays continued to flow downstream.
A section of west Frontier Park was closed in Hays as Big Creek flowed well above its banks, and Montgomery Draw also had exceptionally high water levels. City officials were monitoring the situation through the day, but expected water levels to begin receding Thursday evening, said Jacob Wood, assistant city manager.
“If Montgomery started to overflow or backflow into our storm sewer system, then we would be concerned,” he said. “But that’s not the case right now. If it was a situation where we thought there would be a storm tonight that would bring another 2 inches of rain, then we’d be shutting the gates. … But we feel like at any minute it will stop going up and start to recede.”
Water rushed just underneath Big Creek bridges, often carrying debris and even uprooted trees as it flowed. Many residents flocked to the park to see the rare sight -- and while there is no danger in looking, officials strongly discourage residents from entering the water, Wood said. The current could be surprisingly fast, and the water flowed into trees and carried large pieces of debris.
The event definitely is a rarity for the City of Hays, Wood said.
“This is kind of strange. There’s been rain here, but it’s really the flow way upstream that started in WaKeeney and that area that’s now starting to come downstream. It’s pretty amazing how fast it came up just in the last 24 hours.”
Roads remain closed in rural parts of Ellis County, due partly to damage and recurring high water levels. In some instances, certain roads were clear of water Wednesday night, then underwater again Thursday morning as the water continues to flow downstream, said Bill Ring, Ellis County Public Works Administrator.
“The flow is still coming,” Ring said Thursday afternoon. “And what’s happening is the water is backing up, because it just can’t flow through the county. Water is still flowing, and so right now what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to make roads passable.”
Many other roads are no longer flooded, but will remain closed due to safety issues caused by physical damage as water and debris passed over. It’s too early for the county to have a damage cost estimate, but officials will be carefully tracking those numbers and apply for federal emergency funding if applicable, he said.
Rural residents are urged to be extra cautious when traveling through unincorporated parts of the county, and Ring said those who do not have to be driving on unpaved county roads should avoid doing so.
“What we’re asking folks to do is one, don’t go country cruising. We don’t need any more vehicles out there than we have already,” Ring said. “And of course, don’t drive into roads that are covered with water. We’re promoting the ‘Turn around, don’t drown’ aspect.”
In Ellis, the bridge at 11th and Baughman remains closed due to high water levels and some possible damage caused by erosion, said Ellis Police Chief Taft Yates. All other roads in the city are open, though a road closest to the water in the Big Creek campsite was closed temporarily Wednesday.
Big Creek in Ellis peaked at 14 feet deep Wednesday, and appeared to be receding some Thursday, he said. Campers were not evacuated, but were warned by officials to pay close attention to water levels. They also were told officials were prepared to evacuate them if the situation worsened, he said.
“Water appears to be going down in Big Creek today,” Yates said Thursday. “At about 3:30 this morning, I believe it was, there was no more water flowing over the Baughman Street bridge, and it had been until probably at least 5:30 p.m. the previous day.”
Water levels in the Saline River also appeared to be going down by Thursday afternoon, at least in Russell County, where the river peaked Wednesday at more than 19 feet high, said Keith Haberer, emergency management coordinator for Russell and Ellsworth counties.
Minor flooding stage is considered 18 feet, and a freak Labor Day rain event two years ago pushed the water level to more than 22 feet deep. Some roads in the county were closed temporarily Wednesday, but most were open again by Thursday afternoon, he said, noting several county roads also sustained damage.
“And a lot of the bridges had a lot of debris build-up around them, just blocking the flow,” Haberer said. “So our highway department has been out yesterday and I think they’re going out some today and trying to clear the debris away from the bridges.”
Much of the water ultimately will end up in Cedar Bluff Reservoir -- which is expected to gain as much as 2 feet of water from the event -- or Lake Wilson, which could be up to 3 feet deeper. Webster Lake also gained about 5 feet of water in two days’ time.