OSWEGO — Residents of Oswego continue to recover from the July 11 storm that struck, leaving extensive damage in its wake.

During the Local Emergency Planning Committee meeting Thursday, 911 director Brandi Grassl said the National Weather Service compiled a presentation showing what happened. 

“It was pretty educational,” Grassl said.

There was no tornado, but rather a series of wet microbursts. Images of the storm showed it had built upward to 30,000 feet when it was over Parsons, but by the time it reached Oswego, with the inflow of air being sucked up, it had grown to higher than 70,000 feet, allowing large amounts of hail to build within it.

With the microbursts, the hail was released, along with winds of 90 to 100 mph, Grassl said.

The power of the storm uprooted trees and broke them off at their bases, crushing houses, damaging buildings and vehicles, along with the hail damage.

Upon arrival in Oswego, the storm became stationary for about 20 minutes.

Emergency Management Director Charlie Morse said annual training teaches that those type of storms release all their energy at once. It just so happened that the storm emptied its energy over Oswego before dissipating. 

Immediately following the storm, residents jumped to help their neighbors, showing up with heavy equipment, chainsaws or just their two hands to pitch in. Groups went from house to house, assisting as they could, cutting and moving trees that the storm had felled.

“I’m extremely, extremely proud of the Oswego community,” Grassl said. “Everybody stepped up. I witnessed, even in my own neighborhood, tree parties, cutting up trees there and there and then when they finished, that block was done. Neighbors helping neighbors working together.”

Grassl reported that city staff are still working hard to manage the extensive cleanup required around the city.

People left temporarily homeless because of storm damage are staying in short-term rental homes or with family. Long-term rental properties are not readily available, so some are wondering what they are going to do if their homes are considered unrepairable. 

Morse requested help from the state for the disaster to be included in the state’s multi-hazard emergency declaration now in place. Grassl said the state is being very staunch about the storm not being included, but Morse is still arguing on behalf of the town.

Morse explained that the state issued its COVID-19 disaster declaration in March. Shortly thereafter there were wildfires in western Kansas, resulting in the state then issuing a “multi-hazard” declaration because of having to deal with the wildfires and COVID-19 at the same time. Flooding in some areas of Kansas was also included, but the state is resisting adding the damage in Oswego.

The county threshold for Labette County, for uninsured structures, government structures, brush and debris removal is $82,000. It used to be $300,000. Morse said there was no problem with the county meeting that amount, as it probably met it by noon the day after the storm.

Without any funding assistance from the state to help cover costs of damage and cleanup, the city and others will have to bear the brunt of the expenses.

People such as Mike Zwahlen, who brought in their heavy equipment knowing they may or may not get reimbursed for their work but volunteered their time, could well have to eat the costs and chalk it up as a donation to the community.

“Those are the ones that I feel for, Mike Zwahlen and all those guys. Those machines that take $400 an hour and they were running them 24 hours,” Morse said.

Presently, the full extent of the damage financially is unknown.

Grassl said the city offices are keeping track of volunteer hours, including assistance from other towns, as well as the city’s work hours, but they haven’t totaled any of the costs yet.

Right now, Grassl and Morse said they believe the problem is going to remain a local issue, without help from the state. The city will have to work through it and move on.

“Every disaster starts local and ends local, and you usually have the big help in the middle. This one, it’s going to start local and stay local to the end,” Morse said.


In other business, the committee:

— Received a Code Red IPAWS update. IPAWS relates to public safety alerts. Grassl reported that Labette County Dispatch and Emergency Management is now part of the IPAWS messages. This hits all towers in Labette County to go to any cellphone in the area. It has be tested monthly.

— Heard as of Wednesday, Labette County has had 104 total positive COVID-19 cases. There are 33 active cases, and 96 people have been in quarantine. There have been five hospitalizations, with one person still hospitalized. The Chetopa Manor nursing home outbreak is over as there have been no positive test results in over 28 days. Quarantine is need when a person has had direct contact with a person testing positive.

— Heard vesicular stomatitis virus cases in horses have been reported in Labette County. Grassl will send members a link from the Department of Agriculture that shows information about the virus and pictures of how it affects hoofed animals. The virus is spread through flies, so fly control is important. It is reported there are at least four cases within 10 miles of the Labette County Fair, which is why the horse show was canceled. There is not a vaccine for the virus.

— Heard a SPARK update. Labette County was allocated $3.987 million to be used to fight COVID-19. The city of Parsons is assisting Morse in identifying needs, allocations and how county commissioners want to distribute the funds. Money can be used for personal and other protective items needed. An approved plan is to be submitted by Aug. 15. The county commission decided to divide the money differently than suggested in a plan submitted by the LEPC. If the state doesn’t approve those budgeted funds, the distribution plan can be revisited.

— Discussed PPE supplies and the need of supplies for local agencies and resources. Morse noted the procedure for resource requests has changed. Agencies will now need to submit documentation showing items ordered have been placed on back order or are out of stock before they can receive supplies.

— Heard a Red Cross presenter will go to Montgomery County to discuss the response to the shooting in Las Vegas. The event will be at Independence Memorial Hall, but the date is unknown.

— Discussed the impact on public health staff across the state as well as emergency managers in terms of leaving agencies because of the impact of COVID-19. 

— Heard that the Parsons State Hospital and Training Center’s first COVID-19 outbreak was able to be contained to one cottage. There has been no further outbreak there since. The state hospital has lost nurses and staff due to the work impact. There were two positive cases of staff, but they have not spread. Families can only come once a month now for visits. The hospital is seeing a reduction in census as well as direction from the state.

— Heard from the Labette County Health Department that everything in regular operation is by appointment.

— Heard the Kansas Department of Corrections facility in Oswego dropped census from over 200 inmates down to 86 inmates. Inmates were transferred to the Eldorado facility. No visitors are allowed. The Oswego facility also has new medical management. 

— Heard that Labette Health has purchased facial temperature scanners to scan employees coming to work. The equipment sends a wireless alert if someone tries to check in with a temperature over 100 degrees. The automated scanner allows the hospital to avoid having someone monitor everyone entering. More entrances have reopened. Surgeries have resumed. COVID-19 testing is being done in-house. The hospital is opening more services. Ambulance calls in April dropped by 40%, but they are picking back up now.

— Heard an update from the Labette Center for Mental Health Services on telehealth services and in-person visits in cases of need. Staff have been up and running the entire time, but some are working from home. LCMHS offers services to all in need including any employees struggling with stressors related to the pandemic, work or any mental health needs.

— Heard that Labette County has managed more isolation and separation of staff, but everyone was essential to have working and operations continue. The Road and Bridge Department reduced the number of people in and out of the county barn and spread out clock-in and clock-out to reduce staff being together. The county is down six employees, though no employees have left because of COVID-19.

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