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Natural Disasters - January 13, 2017

Cleaning up a residence after the 1951 flood in Topeka, Kansas (July 19, 1951). (Photo Courtesy of Kansas Historical Society / kansasmemory.org)

Q: It's Friday the 13th and for those who are superstitious (or even just a little "stitious"), today is an unlucky day. One of the worst natural disasters to hit the Midwest took place on another "Friday the 13th," but it happened in the month of July... 66 years ago. How do most Kansans refer to that disaster?


 
A: Flood of '51 (or the Great Flood of 1951)
 
On Friday, the 13th of July, 1951, floodwaters swept down the Kansas River valley and into the Missouri River basin. Hundreds of thousands of people were left homeless, 10,000 farms were destroyed and nearly two dozen people died. The Midwest had not seen such destruction from flooding since record keeping began.  
 
Accurate flood-level readings for the Kansas River remain unclear, because the water crested above all official flood gauges. But between Manhattan and Bonner Springs, water levels were between 4 and 6 feet above the previous records. The Marais Des Cygnes River, Verdigris River, and Neosho River crested more than 9 feet above previous records. 
 
The record flooding that culminated on Friday, July 13, 1951, was the result of above-average rainfall that began in western Kansas in May. Then, beginning in June and lasting through early July, more than 25 inches of rain fell in eastern Kansas, affecting the major towns of Manhattan, Junction City, Topeka, Lawrence and Kansas City. The Great Flood of 1951 was of near Biblical proportions, forcing the evacuation of tens of thousands of people across northeast Kansas.
 
Just how much flood water are we talking about? Here's one example: in Manhattan's downtown business district, the water was 8 feet deep at one point. The Flood of '51 was so devastating to Kansas City, it's one of the reasons Kansas City International Airport was built so far north of the city and away from the Missouri River bottoms.
 
Check out even more photos on the kansasmemory.org website.
 
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