Oil Slick Reaches Oologah Lake

Tuesday, July 3rd 2007, 10:14 am
By: News On 6

MIAMI, Okla. (AP) _ Floodwaters pushed into homes and businesses Tuesday as the rain-swollen Neosho River spilled over its banks, forcing hundreds of residents to evacuate, blocking access to key roads and sending water into classroom buildings and apartments at a state college.

A steady procession of pickup trucks and trailers loaded with furniture, clothing and appliances sloshed along flooded streets in low-lying residential areas as homeowners fled the rising waters.

Meanwhile, environmental officials were monitoring the progress of 42,000 gallons of oil spilled from a flooded Kansas refinery that was slowly heading toward an Oklahoma lake.

``We never anticipated this,'' said Denia Payton, whose front yard was littered with dishes, pots and other household items that members of her family pulled from her home and loaded into a tractor-trailer.

As the floodwaters lapped into Payton's garage, family members pulled kitchen cabinets and a dishwasher from the mountings of Payton's kitchen.

``I don't have no flood insurance,'' Payton said. ``Whatever's left here is gone.''

The river, swollen from heavy rains earlier in the week upstream in southeast Kansas, was scheduled to crest around midnight at 31 feet, more than 15 feet above flood stage, said Miami City Manager Mike Spurgeon.

This is the second biggest flood in the history of the community, where 30 percent of the city's residents live in a 100-year flood plain. No injuries were reported, but water forced the closure of 30 to 40 roads and forced the evacuation of at least 300 homes. Spurgeon said another 200 to 300 homes may have to be evacuated before the water recedes.

Utility crews disconnected electricity on entire blocks to prevent the possibility of fire, and additional chlorine was added to the city's water supply to prevent contamination.

Gov. Brad Henry toured the area on Tuesday before heading to Shawnee, where flood waters damaged homes last week.

Outside Northeastern A&M College, where classes were canceled for the rest of the week, student Bryan Tweet stood on the side of a flooded street and watched the waters rise into the first floor of his two-story college apartment. Tweet said he lives on the second floor and helped first-floor neighbors move their belongings to his apartment to prevent them from being damaged.

``We've stored stuff in our apartment for people who couldn't get out,'' Tweet said.

The floodwaters had entered the first floor of some apartments at NEO and inundated the art building across the street.

``We've sent our fire department out to the areas where we anticipate the worst flooding to be,'' Spurgeon said. ``There's those that just have a difficult time leaving. It's a very personal deal with a lot of emotion involved.''

Several pickup trucks and horse trailer were parked in front of Jane Rhodes' house as friends and family members helped her evacuate her belongings.

``I really felt we would have a little more time to assess the situation,'' said Rhodes, who was vacationing in Denver when she learned that her home was about to be flooded.

She said she drove through the night to get back to her house.

``Better to err on the side of caution,'' Rhodes said. ``This is not the worst thing that could happen. This is doable.''

Environmental officials were planning to conduct sampling in the Verdigris River, where a 42,000-gallon crude oil slick made its way Tuesday toward Lake Oologah, a source of drinking water for the city of Tulsa.

The oil spilled into the river during a flash flood that hit a refinery in Coffeyville, Kan., late Sunday.

``As of right now, we don't have a full assessment of the extent of the contamination,'' said Dave Bary, a spokesman for the Environmental Protection Agency in Dallas. ``Quite a bit of it remains on the surface and is visible.

``Oil on the surface tends to adhere to whatever it comes into contact with _ vegetation, soil, buildings and other properties.''

The spill wasn't expected to have an impact on the water-supply intakes located well below the surface at the south end of the lake, said Skylar McElhaney, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality.

She said oil tends to float on the surface of the water, so the quality of water taken from below the surface of the lake should not be affected.

For more flooding information, check out our STORM ZONE web page.