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Damage Assessment Continues Following Weekend Flooding

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- State and local emergency officials continued tallying up flood damage Tuesday to make a case for what would be a sixth federal disaster declaration for Oklahoma since the start of the year.

Remnants of Tropical Storm Erin brought high winds and heavy rain to the state on Sunday, flooding hundreds of homes and businesses and killing six people.

"It seems like we've been from one disaster to the next – ice storms, flooding and tornadoes," said Albert Ashwood, Oklahoma's emergency management director.

Numerous flood warnings remain in effect through Wednesday and Thursday, including those for the Canadian River at Purcell; the North Canadian River at Oklahoma City, Yukon, El Reno and Harrah; the Washita River at Anadarko, Lindsay and Chickasha and East Cache Creek near Walters.

Governor Brad Henry on Monday declared a state of emergency in 24 counties, the first step toward seeking federal assistance. Henry had not yet made a formal request to President Bush for a federal disaster declaration, although such a request is expected after preliminary damage assessments have concluded.

Since January 1, 2007, President Bush has issued five presidential disaster declarations for Oklahoma, which is thought to be a record for a single calendar year. All but one have been for public assistance, which helps local governments with expenses associated with disasters.

The other declaration was for individual assistance, which provides funds to individuals and businesses affected by disasters.

"Any time you are working that many disasters it not only puts a huge strain on responders, it's a strain for public officials as well to make sure recovery is ongoing," Ashwood said.

Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management spokeswoman Michelann Ooten said officials have become quite familiar with the process for requesting federal assistance.

"It's not like we have to turn around and do on-the-job training for the disaster process to work," she said.

The first two federal disaster declarations came in early January and covered storms that hit the Panhandle in late December -- an ice storm in and around Guymon and a major snow storm that most notably affected Boise City in Cimarron County.

Later in January, an ice storm that passed through the state caused major damage in McAlester, Muskogee and other parts of eastern and central Oklahoma. Henry made a request to the Federal Emergency Management Agency that it provide individual assistance after those storms, but his request and appeal were denied.

A fourth federal disaster declaration came following tornadoes and flooding between May 4-11, and the most recent came after flooding in the state from June 10 through July 25, most notably in the northeastern Oklahoma towns of Miami and Bartlesville. The latter is the only declaration that has provided federal individual assistance this year, Ooten said.

During Sunday's storm an estimated 150 homes and businesses were damaged in and around Kingfisher. Officials have said another 150 homes were damaged or destroyed in Caddo County in southwestern Oklahoma.

In Blaine County, mobile homes were blown apart, a nursing home and a grocery market were badly damaged and at least one home was destroyed, said Janell Wood, the county's emergency management director.

Flood waters also washed out a bridge on State Highway 33 in the eastern part of Blaine County. The Oklahoma Department of Transportation said repairs on the bridge were expected to be completed by Wednesday night, but that a nearby body of standing water could delay the highway's reopening for an extended period.

The highway connects Kingfisher with Watonga, where an 82 mph straight-line wind gust -- the strongest associated with Sunday's storm -- was recorded Sunday. The Watonga airport and some planes parked there, sustained storm damage.

The highest rainfall total recorded in the state Sunday was 11.03 inches about 10 miles west-northwest of Geary, National Weather Service meteorologist David Andra said. The storm was classified as a tropical depression as it passed through Oklahoma, although Andra said that for a brief time, it met the criteria for a tropical storm, that criteria includes sustained winds of 39 mph or higher.

Andra said while it doesn't happen every year, tropical systems sometimes move across Oklahoma. What was unusual about Sunday's system were the strong straight-line winds around the storm's center of circulation and how the storm intensified, he said.

"I don't know if we understand all the mechanisms that led to the intensification," he said.

The tropical system combined with unstable conditions already present in the atmosphere above Oklahoma, and the two reinforced each other, leading to the intense rainfall and wind, he said.

He said meteorologists believe that the storm spawned four small tornadoes, mostly south of Interstate 40.

According to the Oklahoma Climatological Survey, 2007 is so far the fourth-wettest on record in the state with an average rainfall total of 31.96 inches. That's 8.42 inches above normal.

For more flood related information and flooding safety tips, click here.
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