On this day in 1951, rivers across eastern Kansas crest well above flood stage, causing the greatest destruction from flooding in the midwestern United States to that time. Five-hundred-thousand people were left homeless and 24 people died in the disaster.
The above-average rainfall began in June and continued through July 13, dumping well over 25 inches on some areas in eastern Kansas. From July 9 to 13, nearly 6 inches of rain fell. The Kansas, Neosho and Verdigris rivers began taking on more water than their normal carrying capacity a couple of days into the storm. As the rain persisted, flooding began all over the region.
The major towns of Manhattan, Topeka and Lawrence were most affected. The July 13 crest exceeded all previous highs by four to nine feet. Two million acres of farmland were lost to the flood. In addition, the flooding caused fires and explosions in refinery oil tanks on the banks of the Kansas River. Some train passengers traveling through the area were stuck on their trains for nearly four days. In all, $760 million in damages were caused by the flood.
Following the great 1951 flood, a series of reservoirs and levees were constructed all over the area. In 1993, these were credited with minimizing the damage from another record flood.