Swirling flood waters inundate city in 1951


Michael Bushnell

Northeast News

Making the floods of 1903 and 1908 seem insignificant in comparison, the flood of 1951 was dubbed “The Great Flood” with the local mantra “May there be no next time.”

Souvenir booklets and postcard folders were published about the flood by enterprising area photographers and authors, such as Jo Anne Graddy, who self-published the photo essay booklet “The 1951 Flood in Greater Kansas City – A Picture Review.”

Another was “Flood Disaster – Kansas City, 1951,” published by Warner Studios of Kansas City. Warner Studio also published a postcard folder with the same title. The description inside reads: “This is the story of the Flood of July 1951, the costliest in the nation’s history, over three-quarters of a billion dollars worth of destruction.”

“It is a story dramatized by hundreds of thousands of individual tragedies: by homes and belongings being swept away in the flood waters; by thousands of railroad cars; by huge accumulations of debris; by cattle and livestock swimming aimlessly in the swollen waters in the livestock district; and by submerged bridges, highways and buildings.”

The July 1951 floods were caused by a storm of unusual size and intensity for the central Great Plains. Excessive rainfall in central and western Kansas during May and June of 1951 caused some major flooding and saturated the soil, sapping its capacity to absorb any additional rainfall.

On the afternoon of July 9, the rain began to fall heavily and continued through the morning of July 10. Following a brief lull, rain began again the evening of July 10 and continued through July 12. By midnight July 13, unprecedented amounts of rain had fallen since the beginning of the storm. “Black Friday” came on July 13, 1951, when the Kaw River overflowed its dikes in the Argentine district of Kansas City, Kan.

Despite the early warnings, there was no time to save property. More than 15,000 residents trod from their homes in a ragged line with whatever belongings they could carry as flood waters swirled around their ankles, then knees and ultimately inundated the entire district. Armourdale came next, then the Central Industrial District and then the Fairfax area. Some people fled to relatives and friends; others took advantage of the emergency shelters hastily set up by the Civil Defense and the Red Cross.

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