Flooded Refinery Creates Environmental Problem for Town

COFFEYVILLE, Kan. -- The flood engulfing homes to the rooftops carried an extra curse Tuesday as a slick of 42,000 gallons of thick crude oil floated downstream with the mud and debris, coating everything it touched with a slimy, smelly layer of goo.

"My question is how are they going to get all that oil out of the environment," said Mary Burge, a heart surgery patient who had to breathe from a portable oxygen tank because the petroleum odor Monday was so strong it could be detected by the crews of helicopters passing overhead.

By Tuesday, the oil was nearing a large Oklahoma reservoir that supplies water to several cities.

The Verdigris River had crested and was beginning to recede Tuesday at Coffeyville, but it was kept high by water being released from the Elk City and Fall River Toronto Lake reservoirs upstream, said Jim Miller, Montgomery County emergency manager.

"It's going to come down the Verdigris until they shut that water supply off," he said. "So it's just a matter of time."

A malfunction allowed the oil to spill from the Coffeyville Resources refinery on Sunday, while the plant was shutting down in advance of the flood heading toward it on the Verdigris River.

Sharon Watson, spokeswoman for the Kansas adjutant general, said the EPA and state officials would work with officials at the refinery to measure the amount of contamination and help the refinery clean up. In the meantime, however, Watson said, "We're asking everyone to avoid the floodwaters."

That wasn't an option for Fire Department Capt. Mike Mansfield, who rescued eight dogs from water-logged homes Monday. He said all the dogs found outside were covered in oil.

The oil slick had been expected to float into Oklahoma's Oologah Lake, about 30 miles northeast of Tulsa, early Tuesday, said Dave Bary, a spokesman for the Environmental Protection Agency in Dallas.

However, officials who flew over the river said that by late morning the slick was still about 5 or 6 miles from the lake entrance.

Tulsa is among the nine Oklahoma cities that get public water supplies from the Verdigris and Oologah.

The floating oil, which would enter the north end of the lake, wasn't expected to have an effect on water supply intakes located well below the surface at the south end, said Skylar McElhaney, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality.

The oil joins other causes of misery for thousands of flood evacuees in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.

"We do have health concerns," said Bret Glendening, city manager in Osawatomie, Kan. "You've got stagnant water. The water's been into the wood. You have mold issues. There's a whole host of concerns flooding causes."

"All our utilities are under water," Fredonia Mayor Max Payne said.

However, the water had receded significantly at Osawatomie by Tuesday morning, said Mayor Philip Dudley. Pumps provided by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers were "making significant progress."

"I saw drops (in water level) on the sides of houses of about a foot and half," Dudley said. "It's looking a lot better than it did Saturday and Sunday."

On Monday night, President Bush declared a major disaster in Kansas and ordered federal aid for recovery efforts.

Flooding on the Marais des Cygnes river stretched from Kansas into western Missouri, where residents of two small farm communities were urged to evacuate because high water was cutting off their access by road. Most residents of Rockville and Papinville - total population about 140 - were believed to have left, said Bates County Emergency Management Director Tim Young.

Eleven deaths have been blamed on weeks of heavy rain and flooding in Texas, where two men are missing.

More thunderstorms hit parts of Texas on Monday, flooding some roads. The National Weather Service said about 10 inches of rain fell by noon at Corpus Christi.

Two youngsters were rescued from an Arlington, Texas, drainage channel, one after floating half a mile downstream through at least three viaducts, said Fire Department Battalion Chief David Stapp. A handful of people had to be rescued from flooded homes in Laredo.

In North Little Rock, Ark., about 30 homes were evacuated Monday when heavy rain and a faulty drainage system caused flooding up to 6 feet deep in some spots.

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Associated Press writer Thomas Peipert in Cedar Hill, Texas, contributed to this report.

(This version CORRECTS that oil has not yet reached Oklahoma reservoir.)


Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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