High Water Closes Highways


Friday, June 29th 2007, 8:33 am
By: News On 6


OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Rain continued falling Friday across Oklahoma, causing more flooding across a state already soaked by more than two weeks of record rainfall. "Oklahomans have endured an unbelievably wet June, and meteorologists indicate rain is in the forecast into next week," Governor Brad Henry said. "Flooding has wreaked havoc on homes and businesses, and it is crucial that we do everything we can to ensure assistance for those who qualify."

Initial surveys show more than 100 homes and businesses, mainly in the Shawnee and Tecumseh areas, sustained damage this week. Henry cautioned people to avoid driving into high waters.

"Our first-responders have done an amazing job over the past few weeks, and there have been many incredible rescues," he said.

Flooding in Comanche County led the American Red Cross to set up emergency shelters at the Lawton-Cameron Baptist Church in Lawton and at the First United Methodist Church in Cache, said Michelann Ooten, spokeswoman for the state Department of Emergency Management.

"We also have reports of damage in Kingfisher, Payne, Love, Jefferson and Lincoln counties and I'm sure there are others out there that we haven't heard from yet," Ooten said.

There were no evacuations ordered, but Ooten said many people were leaving their homes voluntarily in search of shelter.

Ooten said the damage includes homes and businesses, but the extent would not be known until flood waters recede and damage assessment teams are able to enter the areas.

Forecasters warned that the rain could continue through the middle of next week.

The National Weather Service on Friday recorded rainfall in Oklahoma City for the 17th straight day, three days longer than the previous record, set from May 29 to June 11 in 1937.

"A lot of times, it seems our normal weather is defined by extremes," said meteorologist Chris Sohl with the National Weather Service in Norman.

Numerous people were rescued from high waters on Thursday. Television footage from eastern Oklahoma County showed rescuers successfully reaching a young man who was sitting on a tree branch in the North Canadian River and pulling him from the water.

In Tulsa, a 10-year-old girl was swept away in the rushing waters of a creek on Thursday, but her mother and another adult pulled her out of the water before rescue workers could arrive.

The girl had been playing with a friend at the edge of Little Joe Creek, which was swift and swollen with rain, when she slipped on the steep, muddy bank and fell into the water about 2:15 p.m., said Fire Capt. Larry Bowles.

As the child was being swept downstream, the two adults ran alongside the creek to catch up to her and got her out, Bowles said.

"A tragedy was averted," Bowles said. "The message here is to stay away from any kind of floodwater and creeks when they are high. The edges can be slick."

In Kingfisher County in central Oklahoma, three water rescues had to be made by area fire departments Thursday, two west of Hennessey and one northwest of Kingfisher, Ooten said.

The National Weather Service in Tulsa issued a flood watch from Friday morning through early Monday for the Neosho River in Ottawa County near Commerce in far northeastern Oklahoma. The river is forecast to rise above its flood stage of 15 feet and crest at 19.1 feet on Saturday morning, which could limit access to low-lying areas of Miami.

A flood warning also was issued for the Verdigris River near Lenapah in Nowata County, which is expected to crest early Saturday at 32.3 feet, more than two feet above flood stage.

Along the Red River in Love County in southern Oklahoma, all low-lying areas have flooded farmland from a half-mile to a mile away from the river, but no homes are in danger, Ooten said. The river is expected to crest at about 30 feet Friday.

In Lincoln County, flood water seeped into a couple of homes, causing minor damage, and resulted in the closure of several Chandler streets, said Grover Gregory, Chandler's deputy emergency management director.

"It just basically too much water for what we have as far as drainage," Gregory said.

Sohl said the culprit is a low-pressure system that has been stalled over Oklahoma and Texas for several days. The system is sandwiched between two high-pressure systems and forecasting models show it might not move out of the area until next Wednesday.

"It reminds you of what it must be like in the tropics. In a half-hour's time, it can drop down an inch or two (of rain) if you've got a heavy one going."

Ooten said that all 77 Oklahoma counties remain under a state of emergency.

According to the Shawnee city Web site, 46 homes in Pottawatomie County have sustained major damage, 60 have minor damage and seven commercial structures have major damage, and at least one bridge in the county has been washed out.

In Jefferson County, emergency management officials said early damage surveys show at least 10 bridges have been washed out. In Chickasha, Oklahoma Military Department water trailers are providing potable water for the southern part of the Grady County town, which remained under a mandatory boil order after a water main break Tuesday.

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The Oklahoma Highway Patrol says several roads in Oklahoma are closed Friday because of high water across the roadway.

  • State Highway 15 - west of Red Rock in Noble County

  • State Highway 18 - north of Fairfax over the Salt Fork River in Osage County

  • State Highway 156 - north of Marland in Noble County

  • Fountain Road at U.S. Highway 77 near Tonkawa in Kay County

  • State Highway 82 - 3.8 miles south of Red Oak in Latimer County

  • State Highway 31 - 5 miles west of McAlester in Pittsburgh County

  • State Highway 80 - between Hulbert and Ft. Gibson in Cherokee County