SOUTHEASTERN Oklahoma latest region to clean up after severe weather

Thursday, May 31st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Forecasters expected a slow-moving storm system to finally relinquish its grip on Oklahoma Thursday after lashing another region of the state with severe thunderstorms.

Residents in southeastern sections of the state had the task of assessing and clearing damage when high winds and heavy rains moved through late Wednesday.

Authorities aren't sure if tornadoes or straight-line winds caused the damage found in Pittsburg County.

``We had one house destroyed, but no fatalities or injuries,'' said Sue Watkins, deputy emergency management director for Pittsburg County. ``We're going to have some wind damage and tree damage. At this one place in Dow, there are going to be some cars overturned.''

Watkins said the destroyed house was vacant.

Tornado warnings also were issued for Hughes and Latimer counties, but there were no immediate reports of damage or injuries. Severe thunderstorms rumbled in the region through the night.

Meanwhile, Gov. Frank Keating signed a declaration on Wednesday authorizing state agencies to help local authorities assess and repair damage caused by storms over the past four days.

The first round on Sunday packed the meanest punch, damaging homes and businesses and toppling power poles. Initially, there were 165,000 customers statewide without power. By Wednesday, that number had fallen to 32,170, with 16,000 of those in the Oklahoma City metropolitan area alone.

Crews had whittled the number to 54,000 on Tuesday, but the number ballooned to more than 67,000 after rowdy thunderstorms pounded the state into early Wednesday.

``We're certainly doing everything that can be done for the communities and doing everything to put their world back in the position it was before Sunday night,'' said Michaelann Ooten, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Civil Emergency Management.

Tuesday's rain-laden storms forced road closures and some evacuations. The Payne County town of Ripley reported 7.29 inches, the most in the state.

Authorities had to close two underpasses and several streets in Beggs after 4 inches of rain fell in the Okmulgee County town early Wednesday. In the southern part of the county, flooding prompted the evacuation of a Henryetta nursing home and the temporary closing of Main Street.

In south-central Oklahoma, Pauls Valley City Manager Jim Layton said the storm caused $100,000 in damage to the airport.

``We haven't had time to run around and gather numbers,'' Layton said. ``We've been too busy running around picking up brush. But we've had at least a million dollars worth of damage alone in all the signs that have been blown over.''

In Oklahoma City, resident Tony Czerczyk has employed various ways to cope with not having electrical power since Sunday.

``I took a walk just to keep from going crazy,'' the 67-year-old said Wednesday. ``There isn't much you can do. It's extremely uncomfortable.''

With refrigerated food spoiled, Czerczyk has been eating out or bringing home hot food. He said he finds himself staring at the TV.

``I try talking to my wife, but we've been married for 40 years so she already knows everything about me.''