First responders urge caution around high water given scarce resources

By: Jason Tarr Email
By: Jason Tarr Email

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WICHITA, Kan. -- With waters overflowing the banks of Cow Creek due to recent rains, Reno County Sheriff Randy Henderson sat with a large map in front of him. Emergency management specialist Todd Strain used a pencil to point out the roads now closed due to the flood waters.

"My concern is the water is not receding, it's going to continue rising," Henderson said.

Flooding into his mind were concerns about people ignoring the road closures, driving around the barricades into the water, and putting themselves and others in danger.

It's something he's seen many times before and something that happened in Barton County this past week.

"We do not have good water rescue equipment in Reno County. If you can't get to it in a four-wheel drive or fire truck, we're in trouble," Henderson said. "We don't have access to a lot of boats, and we don't have the skill level here to do a lot of water rescues."

In other words, he says, you'd be putting yourself in a very dangerous situation if you tried to drive through the water.

"You're driving at your own risk and unfortunately that risk goes to rescue teams if you get swept off the road," Henderson said.

Much like Reno County, many Kansas counties lack a stockpile of their own water rescue equipment and skilled personnel. Leaders in those counties say it's even more important there to not take a risk in high water.

Nearby McPherson and Harvey Counties are on that list.

"We have some (resources) but if there's a lot of people going through these things, we don't have the resources to get to everybody," Harvey County Sheriff T. Walton said.

Walton says they do share resources with other communities or departments but those can take extra time to arrive and cost additional money.

"It is expensive and the taxpayers foot the bill," Walton said.

But the cost he's more concerned about would be much greater.

"We don't want people to lose their lives. That's the most important thing," Walton said.

Walton and Henderson say the bottom line is clear: for the sake of your safety and the safety of others, just steer clear of high water.

"If you see water crossing a road, don't take the water on. You won't win. It will beat you," Walton said.

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