The flood engulfing homes to the rooftops carried an extra curse Tuesday as a slick of 42,000 gallons of thick crude oil floated downstream with the mud and debris, coating everything it touched with a slimy, smelly layer of goo.
"My question is how are they going to get all that oil out of the environment," said Mary Burge, a heart surgery patient who had to breathe from a portable oxygen tank because the petroleum odor Monday was so strong it could be detected by the crews of helicopters passing overhead.
A malfunction allowed the oil to spill from the Coffeyville Resources refinery on Sunday, while the plant was shutting down in advance of the flood heading toward it on the Verdigris River.
Cleanup of the toxic sludge will complicate long-term flood recovery efforts for Coffeyville.
The oil also is a concern for others downstream. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had teams on the scene and was monitoring the oil slick as it floated toward drinking water sources and recreation areas in Oklahoma, said Jim Miller, the Montgomery County emergency manager.
Sharon Watson, spokeswoman for the Kansas adjutant general, said the EPA and state officials would work with officials at the refinery to measure the amount of contamination and help the refinery clean up. In the meantime, however, Watson said, "We're asking everyone to avoid the floodwaters."
That wasn't an option for Fire Department Capt. Mike Mansfield, who rescued eight dogs from water-logged homes Monday. He said all the dogs found outside were covered in oil.
The oil was floating down river toward Oklahoma and that state's Oologah Lake, about 30 miles northeast of Tulsa, said Maj. Gen. Tod Bunting, the Kansas state adjutant.
However, Oklahoma officials were optimistic the spill would dissipate before it reached the lake, which provides flood control, drinking water and recreation.
"There are nine public water supplies along the Verdigris and the Oologah Lake, and none of them are currently affected," said Skylar McElhaney, a spokeswoman for Oklahoma's Department of Environmental Quality. Tulsa is among the cities that get water from Oologah.
The oil joins other causes of misery for thousands of flood evacuees in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.
"We do have health concerns," said Bret Glendening, city manager in Osawatomie, Kan. "You've got stagnant water. The water's been into the wood. You have mold issues. There's a whole host of concerns flooding causes."
"All our utilities are under water," Fredonia Mayor Max Payne said.
On Monday night, President Bush declared a major disaster in Kansas and ordered federal aid for recovery efforts.
Eleven deaths have been blamed on weeks of heavy rain and flooding in Texas, where two men are missing.
More thunderstorms hit parts of Texas on Monday, flooding some roads. The National Weather Service said about 10 inches of rain fell by noon at Corpus Christi.
Two youngsters were rescued from an Arlington, Texas, drainage channel, one after floating half a mile downstream through at least three viaducts, said Fire Department Battalion Chief David Stapp. A handful of people had to be rescued from flooded homes in Laredo.
In North Little Rock, Ark., about 30 homes were evacuated Monday when heavy rain and a faulty drainage system caused flooding up to 6 feet deep in some spots.
The weather and floods have squelched summer recreational activities across the Plains, slowing business at parks and tourist destinations and waterlogging campsites and hiking trails.
A year ago, many Texas officials warning boaters about lakes that were too low and banned fireworks because the ground was too dry. Now some popular lakes might be closed for the Fourth of July because they're too full, and fireworks shows are threatened by a continuing forecast of rain.
Texas has had to close three state parks temporarily.
"Obviously it's going to impact numbers. People don't want to go camping when it's pouring down rain," said Rob McCorkle, a spokesman for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.