Rushing Storm Waters Can Create 'Drowning Machine,' Tulsa Firefighters Say

Friday, April 15th 2011, 9:24 pm
By: News On 6

Lacie Lowry, News On 6

TULSA, Oklahoma -- Thursday's storms dumped a lot of water in a short amount of time.

Two near-drownings in Tulsa are pointing out just how efficient and how dangerous our storm drainage system can be.

One storm drain, located near 21st and Riverside, helps flush out the rainwater from the city. It moves so fast, rescuers called it a "drowning machine" because others have lost their lives in it.

"Victims will get in there and just turn," Tulsa Fire Captain Jerry Gibbens said. "The water moves down those creeks faster than it does class 5 rapids."

A man and woman are very lucky to be alive after getting caught in the current pouring out of the storm drain.

4/14/2011 Related Story: Tulsa Firefighters Rescue Man Trapped In Arkansas River

"It gets the water out of this city at a very fast rate and once you get in these creeks around here, the chances of you getting out are slim," Gibbons said.

The RiverParks Authority has studied the rolling action of the water.

"Dangerous for people if you get it. I mean, even if you're an Olympic swimmer, if you get caught in that, you're in trouble," Matt Meyer, with RiverParks Authority, said.

The water rushes down so fast, it flips back over on itself, creating a continual cycle.

Last July, at the same location as Thursday's rescue, a fisherman slipped on some rocks and fell into the water. A bystander went in after him, but couldn't find him and the fisherman drowned.

Two months before that, a kayaker drowned at the Zink Dam near 31st and Riverside.

Even though it's a different location, the dam has the exact same deadly rolling current. That's partly why RiverParks wants to redesign the Dam.

"Our long-range plans are to retrofit the downstream side of the dam with a stair-step, which is safer, should people get in there," Meyer said.

The dam retrofitting plan isn't fully funded, so no telling when that $30 million project might start. Even when it's complete, the danger remains at the storm drain where the woman and man were rescued last night.