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‘We still matter': Flooding forces homeless out of encampments overnight

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Posted at 8:00 PM, Jul 04, 2024

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Flash flooding early Thursday morning left dozens of homeless individuals in disarray after waking up to their belongings and encampments overrun by rushing water.

A spokesman for the Kansas City Fire Department said there were 11 reported rescues Thursday morning as calls for help came as early as 4:15 a.m.

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The majority of the rescues were for people stuck in flooded roadways.

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Car attemps to drive through flooded roadway along Gardener Avenue on Thursday morning.

“First and foremost, turn around, don’t do it,” said Kansas City, Missouri, Fire Department Battalion Chief Michael Hopkins. “Don’t drive into high water. It only takes a couple of inches of moving water to sweep your vehicle away. But if you do get stuck, stay in the vehicle if you can. If you need to, move to the roof or the hood of the vehicle and call 9-1-1.”

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Mike Hopkins with KCFD explains the dangers of driving in flooded roadways in front of the Blue River, near the site of a flooded encampment.

Hopkins said some people make the same mistakes each time there's flood waters over roadways.

“The water department goes out and they put the barriers up and they say, ‘Don’t go around the barriers, it’s impassable,’ but people still do it. So we have to go out and get them from those vehicles,” Hopkins said. “It’s not worth your vehicle, and more importantly, it’s not worth your life to get just to the other side of that water to go wherever it is that you’re going. Take a few extra minutes and go around the block, find another path.”

The first rescue the fire department was sent to on Thursday morning was to a homeless encampment on the corner of Hardesty Avenue and Blue Parkway.

Water engulfed the encampment and surprised the seven people living there.

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The flooded homeless encampment sits behind a corner store on Hardesty Avenue and contains tents and personal belongings like shoes and clothes.

“Most of our stuff was just wiped out,” said Eric Johnson, who experienced flooding days prior. “It’s just deja vu.”

Johnson says everyone living at the encampment is like a family.

“That’s the biggest difference," Hopkins said. "The folks on the roadway, you can make that choice not to drive into that water. With some of our homeless camps that are being set up, while they could pick a better location, that’s where they’re staying and there’s not a lot of choice in that for them.”

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One of multiple flooded tents at the encampment along Hardesty and Blue Parkway.

Johnson says he and his friends need help.

“We don’t exactly have the luxury of knowing when it’s going to occur,” Johnson said. “We need help. We need clothes, shoes, toiletries, food.”

Unlike their belongings, that need for supplies won’t be swept away any time soon.

What Johnson and his peers are left with isn’t a pleasant sight.

“When it’s all said and done, we have to look at that,” Johnson said as he tearfully pointed to what’s left of the encampment.

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Eric Johnson points out what's left of the encampment he and six others lived at.

The flood waters certainly ruined what’s meant to be a joyous holiday, but the America that Johnson wants to live in is one where he doesn’t feel neglected.

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A damp American flag hangs above the flooded encampment site.

“We still matter," Johnson said. "I mean, we still bleed the same blood as anybody else.”