Governor Brad Henry Asks For Disaster Declaration

Thursday, July 5th 2007, 11:57 am
By: News On 6

MIAMI, Okla. (AP) _ Slowly receding floodwater still surrounded hundreds of homes Thursday as displaced residents watched and waited, anxious to begin salvaging soggy belongings. Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry asked the White House to approve a disaster declaration for Comanche, Ottawa, Pottawatomie and Washington counties, where more than 800 homes have been damaged by flood waters since Memorial Day weekend. A federal disaster declaration would clear the way for housing assistance and low-interest loans.

Dorena Jackson waded out of her home in Miami at 5:30 a.m. Tuesday after water from the flooded Neosho River surged through this northeastern Oklahoma city of 14,000 people.

``I don't even have a change of clothes,'' Jackson said as she walked near her neighborhood, trying to get a glimpse of her home. ``I lost everything as far as I know.''

Some homes in the neighborhood remained flooded to the eaves, while others contained just a few inches of water. Some residents were able to return to their homes under partly cloudy skies.

``Rain is not out of the forecast but it's not expected to be any significant amounts to affect the rivers in any significant way,'' said Daryl Williams, a National Weather Service forecaster in Norman.

Concerns also eased Thursday that a full Lake Texoma along the Oklahoma-Texas border would send floodwaters into the Red River.

Ross Adkins, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said water could be released through the spillway at Denison Dam, possibly Friday, but no major damage to homes was anticipated. The last major flood was nearly 5 feet over the spillway in 1990. This year's level is expected to crest at less than a foot over the spillway.

Residents, particularly those living in farm areas near the river, were warned to take precautions.

``(We're) warning residents along the Red River to move all livestock, equipment and other necessary belongings to higher ground,'' Bryan County Emergency Management Director James Dalton said. ``We are also urging residents to have an initial evacuation plan, should conditions threaten homes in the area.''

Floodwaters were ebbing in several northeastern Oklahoma communities.

The worst flood damage was in Miami, where the Neosho River crested at about 29 feet, its highest stage since 1951, before beginning its decline. The river was not expected to be back within its banks until late Sunday.

``We're starting to see an average drop of about a half-inch every hour,'' City Manager Mike Spurgeon said.

As the water dropped, debris such as telephone poles, pipes and garbage, emerged.

Spurgeon estimated it could take six months to a year to rebuild in the parts of town most heavily damaged. A shelter set up in the city housed about 55 people, and flood damage was expected to affect about 600 homes and businesses.

About 50 Oklahoma Army National Guard troops worked 12-hour shifts providing security in flood-ravaged neighborhoods. Clouds of mosquitoes buzzed around the smelly floodwater.

Jerry Stevens was tearing soggy carpeting and floor boards out of his aunt's house on Thursday. Pieces of particle board crumbled in his hand.

``You go over and get a handful of it and it is gone,'' he said. ``If the house is habitable in three months I will be surprised.''

J.O. Smith was preparing to move back into his home Thursday, which received less than a half-foot of water. He and family members had removed furniture and appliances in anticipation of the flood.

``I'm counting my blessings,'' he said.

Lisa Wiley said she could grab only a few photos and a change of clothes after she had to evacuate a homeless shelter that had become her temporary home after she lost her job.

``I'm just trying to get back on my feet,'' she said, as she prepared to release a pet cat into a wheat field. ``Now I've got nothing.''

Salesman sat in lawnchairs outside the Turnpike Chrysler Dodge Jeep dealership. Some 250 new and used cars had been moved to a nearby Indian casino to protect the vehicles from floodwater. Owner Marc Crow said he was losing tens of thousands of dollars a day.

``It's going to set us back tremendously,'' he said.

Ralph Ayres was helping clean flood damage at Immanuel Baptist Church. He noted that ice storms last winter preceded this summer's flooding.

``I don't blame the Lord but maybe old Satan might have something to do with it,'' he said.

More than 30 roads in and out of Miami were still closed Thursday due to flooding.

The American Humane Association sent a mobile veterinary clinic and command center to Miami to rescue and care for animals that have been displaced.

Meanwhile, a 42,000-gallon crude oil slick that spilled from a refinery into the Verdigris River during a flash flood in Coffeyville, Kan., had mostly dissipated.

However, the Environmental Protection Agency reported Thursday that an aerial surveillance team spotted an oily sheen on the river, north of Oklahoma's Lake Oologah, a water source for Tulsa.

EPA spokesman Dave Bary said attempts would be made to contain the oil in the river before it reaches the lake.

Tulsa city officials did not expect drinking water problems as any oil that reaches the lake is expected to float on the surface and the city's water intake pipes are 40 feet below the surface.