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Heavy rains force school closings, evacuations

Updated:
TULSA, Okla. (AP) -- Another night of heavy rain across already saturated northeastern Oklahoma closed schools and roads, washedout at least one bridge and forced the evacuation of some residents of Vinita and Miami.

Craig County Sheriff George Vaughn said White Oak, Bluejacket and Welch schools were closed because of the rains. A bridge washed out in the northern part of the county.

Vaughn said boats and volunteers were being brought in to get some of the elderly residents east of Vinita out. He said water levels varied and some of the evacuations are in anticipation of rising rivers because of rains in Kansas.

The Red Cross opened a shelter at the Catholic Church-Holy Ghost in Vinita. Several residents stopped in but then returned to their homes to salvage what they could, volunteer Dee Lee said.

"They're moving their things out. They won't leave their homes until you have to carry them out," Lee said this morning. "The water is knee high and in some homes already. A lot of roads are closed."

Last May, both the east and west sides of Vinita flooded. Vaughn said officers are keeping a watch on the west side of the city.

The state Transportation Department closed Oklahoma 10 east of Miami, Oklahoma 10 between Miami and Welch and Oklahoma 125 between Miami and Fairland because of flooding.

The National Weather Service said evacuations were also underway in the Sky Ranch area of Miami.

The Neosho River near Miami has come within a foot of homes, said Terry Durborow, emergency management director.

"We're in standby mode," Durborow said. "I'm just holding my breath to see what the river will do."

The rain was not as heavy and the sky was beginning to lighten by midmorning.

Water was near 3 feet on some roads. A few residents were not going to risk it and packed up and left. Others were busy storing things on blocks, he said.

"We have warned people who normally get flooded to be ready in case we need to get them out," Durborow said. "We're just watching the water rise."

Up to 4 inches of rain fell in Craig and Ottawa counties overnight with another inch possible this morning.

The water level was dropping quickly in Nowata. A few county roads were still underwater but most of the streets in town were clear. No homes were reported flooded and no motorists had any problems, said Randy Lawson, emergency management director.

"It's pretty well calm," he said this morning.

Washington County emergency management officials reported many county roads under water as up to 5 inches of rain fell on the area as well as in Osage County.

The latest rain came as residents of Sapulpa, just west of Tulsa, continued the cleanup from a weekend storm that dumped 8 inches of rain on the region in about two hours. "Everything was lost. Everything," Tom Dervin said Monday, standing outside his saturated home in Sapulpa. "We had stuff float away that we don't know where it went."

The floodwaters damaged more than 400 homes and killed one woman in Tulsa. Gov. Frank Keating declared Creek, Tulsa, Osage, Wagoner, Pawnee, Okmulgee and McIntosh counties disaster areas, leading the way for federal assistance if a presidential declaration is given.

Assessment teams from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, U.S. Small Business Administration Disaster Loan Program toured Sapulpa and Sand Springs on Monday.

A line of brown mud marks the spot where the water rushed chest-high into Dervin's home. It flowed over counters and cabinets, soaking everything. Barely a puddle was left a few dayslater. "I almost wish it was a tornado instead," he said, sweeping his arm toward the house. "It could have just blown it all away instead of us having to rip it apart."

The stench of stale water was strong as FEMA inspector Glenn Berry took notes of the damage in the Sapulpa neighborhood.

"People don't understand that the mold and mildew is so dangerous. The sickness comes after the water if you don't leave the house," Berry said.

Many don't have flood insurance. Only about 10 percent of the flood victims who have reported damage to the Creek County emergency management office said they were covered, said director B.J. Pope.

Albert Ashwood, head of the state Department of Civil Emergency Management, has asked federal authorities about the possibility of financial assistance for uninsured residents.

The assessment teams were expected to take a few days to tour the flood sites before a decision was made. Meanwhile, state Insurance Commissioner Carroll Fisher urged Oklahomans to be prepared.

"If you don't have homeowners insurance, you should get it as soon as possible," Fisher said. The National Weather Service reported that flooded creeks and tributaries were back below flood stage Monday, but that was expected to be short lived.

Much of the northeastern part of the state was pelted with hail and rain Monday night, but no significant damage was reported.

Polecat Creek was back to normal near Sapulpa and Jenks. Bird Creek near Owasso also returned below flood stage by Monday morning, as did the Caney River near Collinsville.

The small creek behind Cindy Hardwood's home is again shallow enough to wade through. On Saturday, it had turned into a monster, sneaking under her door and into her house, raising high enough to flow over tables and counters.

"The last time water got into the house was in '74," said Hardwood, whose parents built the house. "It has never been that high."

Standing near piles of canned food and appliances in her driveway, Hardwood sighed when reminded about the forecast.

Severe weather with the possibility of heavy rain was expected in northeastern Oklahoma.

"It will have to rain a lot to do what it did over the weekend," Hardwood said. "But I don't want to even see if it can do it again."
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