The flood of April 29 is not one the town of Seneca will ever forget. In fact, some say it was worse than the flood of 1959.
Several businesses remain closed in order to try and salvage and repair their belongings after the flood.
“Places that have never flooded before, flooded this time,” said James Altic, Seneca police chief. “People who were not required to have flood insurance because they weren’t considered a flood plane, flooded. It’s been ridiculous.”
Some of the downtown businesses in Seneca that sustained water damage were several of the flea markets, O’Reilly Auto Parks, Twig’s Floral & Gifts, Bennett’s Barber Shop, Seneca City Hall, Seneca Library, Community Bank & Trust, and several more.
“Several of those businesses like Bennett’s, O’Reilly, the library, and city hall, all got about a foot of water, and some got even more than that,” said Altic.
Some businesses received more than a foot of water while several businesses only received a few inches of water.
“Everything South of Highway K to Cherry Street got hit and it really all depended on how elevated the businesses were, they all sit at different levels,” said Altic.
Some of the businesses that did not receive water damage were the Seneca Post Office, G&W Foods, and Gas-N-Snack in town.
Altic said 127 rescues were conducted in Seneca alone and approximately 200 homes and businesses were damaged by the flood.
“There are blocks upon blocks of homes with damage anywhere between a few inches to a foot-and-a-half,” said Altic.
Seneca officials are still collecting numbers of homes that had damage and homes that did not have flood insurance.
The last time Seneca experienced a flood this bad was in 1959, when several businesses and homes were flooded out.
While Altic was out in the community assessing damage on Tuesday morning, he spoke to a man who had lived through the last big flood Seneca had.
“This man told me that this flood that we just had was worse than what happened in 1959, and I talked to a few other folks that lived through the same one and they all agreed,” said Altic.
The Seneca Police Station itself missed flooding by half an inch, according to Altic.
“Several businesses had sandbags, which was helpful to some, but not all,” said Altic.
Though school resumed session on Tuesday, several businesses and homeowners are spending their days trying to salvage what they can, removing carpet, and trying to fix issues.
“We haven’t heard of anyone that is planning on just up and moving. I think most people are trying to fix their flooding issues, rebuild, and get back to normal,” said Altic.
Several different organizations were dispatched and volunteered to help Seneca citizens.
“The Seneca Fire Department had two engines, a hummer, one tanker, and 13 personnel and the Seneca Rural Fire Protection District had one truck and six personnel out on Saturday,” said Altic.
The Wyandotte (Okla.) Fire Department also sent two trucks, one boat, and eight personnel to help out as well as the Quapaw Tribe Fire Department. They sent one truck, one boat, and four personnel.
“The Missouri Militia sent one truck, one boat, and two personnel and the Newton County Rescue & Recovery Team sent one truck, one boat, and four people to help,” said Altic.
The Central Jackson County Fire Department sent three trucks, two boats, two UTVs and 10 personnel and civilian volunteers were counted with two trucks, four personnel, and two boats.
Local shelter locations in Seneca were the high school, the baptist church, Assembly of God Church, and Seneca Christian Church.
“We got quite a bit of help from Oklahoma that we weren’t expecting which was great. We had some people from Kansas and several civilians out helping as much as they could, and we appreciate everyone who helped,” said Altic.
The post office may not have flooded internally, but the trucks that pick the mail up were not able to make it to the post office on Saturday to get the mail.
“Kathy Murphy and I had to deliver the mail ourselves to Springfield to make sure the mail got out on time,” said Christi Bennett, Seneca postmaster.
She said the floodwater had risen up to the loading dock which made it impossible for trucks to get there and load mail.
Bennett and Murphy had to wait until the water receded and were able to head out around 6:30 p.m.
The post office was also able to make partial deliveries during the flooding.
“Everywhere south of town with dirt roads and low-water bridges were not passable, but we made most deliveries north of town,” said Bennett.
For those residents whose mailboxes were either destroyed or unaccessible, Bennett said they need to call the post office and put their deliveries on hold for pickup at the post office.
“Condor Road right now is about the only road we can’t access, but they said it should be accessible by Wednesday, hopefully,” said Bennett.
The owners of 1 Fat Guy’s Flea Market on Cherokee Avenue, Larry and Jennifer Benson, are currently staying in a motel after their flea market and living quarters were destroyed by the flood.
“The water started coming in the front door and then the side living quarters door, and within 10 minutes it was up to our knees,” said Larry.
The Bensons live in the back of their flea market and since Saturday they have been staying at the Super 8 in Neosho.
“We got a storage box delivered on Tuesday and we are currently trying to move everything out, rip up carpet and get the mildew smell out of the living quarters,” said Jennifer.
After they get the living quarters functioning again their plan is to start on the store.
“We’re taking it one day at a time. It’s too hard to look at the big picture,” said Larry.
While the Bensons were trying to deal with the water, they heard the empty gas tank from the old gas station nearby start to erupt.
“We heard a noise and went to look out the window and the gas tank was halfway out of the ground at the old station. When the pipes connected to it burst it exploded out of the ground, hit the side of the building, and slid to the alley behind the building,” said Larry.
The gas tank was then picked up, and the hole in the ground remains open but marked off with caution tape.
Seneca School District also sustained water damage to two campuses, the maintenance garage, and central office.
“We had some significant water damage to the elementary school and two classrooms at the high school that we had to get fixed, enough to where we could have school,” said Dr. Jim Cummins, Seneca superintendent.
The high school shop room and art room were the two buildings that sustained damage, and the library at the elementary school also received quite a bit of water damage.
“The water was high enough to get into several rooms of the administration building and our maintenance garage took a big hit with the same amount of water and dirt,” said Cummins.
Cummins has spent the first part of this week talking to the adjuster about insurance on the schools as well as communicating with a cleaning company to tear out carpet and tiles that needs replaced.
“We have found that we may have to remove some tiles and there is a need for new carpet in different places like the admin building and the elementary library,” said Cummins.
Cummins will have to work with the cleaning company as well as the adjuster to figure out what can and cannot be replaced within the district.
When it comes to bus routes, the district was able to make every stop but one, Condor Road.
“There is a family on Condor that isn’t able to leave their home because of the road damage and the buses aren’t able to get to them,” said Cummins.
The Seneca Special Road District is supposedly doing something to help the family, like laying gravel so they are able to get out, and the school district has said it will work with that student when they are able to return to school.
“We won’t punish a student for not attending school because they can’t leave their house, it’s understandable,” said Cummins.
According to Cummins, the buses are able to make it to every other stop on their routes.
“We have some work to do, for sure, and we all need do something different with the ball fields,” said Cummins.
The ball fields in Seneca sustained major fence damage and according to Cummins, this is the sixth time it has flooded in 11 years.
“We have got to do something different, it keeps flooding and getting destroyed,” said Cummins.
He expressed the need for a sports complex at the school farm earlier in the year, and a new ball field will definitely be included.
“We’ve got a couple ideas, it’s just figuring out how to pay for it,” said Cummins.
By Mattie Link