The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

August 19, 2007

Tropical Storm Erin's remnants pound Kingfisher and Blaine counties

By Robert Barron Staff Writer

KINGFISHER — Rescuers continued working throughout the day and into the night in Kingfisher to assist residents who were trapped by rushing waters caused by an overnight rainstorm — the result of Tropical Storm Erin.

Bernard Ward, 52, was discovered drowned about 14 miles west of Kingfisher after floodwaters knocked his vehicle from Oklahoma 33, Kingfisher County Sheriff Dennis Banther said. Two Watonga residents were injured after their home was struck by straight-line winds or a tornado.

Watonga also was hit hard by the storm and reported high water and winds with many homes and businesses destroyed and power lines down.

The storm dissipated by early Sunday afternoon, but water still was rising in Kingfisher and expected to crest about 7 p.m. at 27.9 feet. One person is missing in the Kingfisher area when water swept his pickup from the highway and rushing water forced Oklahoma Highway Patrol rescuers to abandon the search. The vehicle was later recovered, but the individual is still missing.

OHP established a mobile command post in Kingfisher along with a quick-response vehicle designed to provide immediate communications assistance. Two OHP helicopters assisted in the Kingfisher area. About 22 OHP personnel are assisting in Kingfisher, with other personnel at Fort Cobb. Numerous area police departments also are assisting in the Kingfisher area.

A shelter was established in Kingfisher at the Kingfisher County Fairgrounds.

All residents known to be stranded had been rescued in Kingfisher by 6 p.m. and authorities were making a door-to-door search, making contact with residents to check on their health and welfare.

Bonita North returned home Saturday night from her late shift to find her home at 209 S.10th full of water. North finally got to her home and when she opened the door, found water inside the home and everything floating. North has lived in the house three years and owns the residence, but has no insurance.

“I seen the neighbors, some of their girls, in water up to their chests going in their house to get things out. When me and my daughter were in the water it was close to my neck because I’m not very big,” North said. “That water is ugly looking. I understand how people in Katrina, what they went through.”

North went to her daughter Janet Camacho’s residence, which is “uphill” from her home. She told of watching an uprooted tree smash a vehicle a street away from her daughter’s house.

“It was such a shock. When I got home I went straight to my daughter’s place and it just hit me, I couldn’t believe it,” she said weeping. “The other people, to see their houses too.”

North works in Okarche and said there were problems at her workplace due to high winds and water.

Reports stated it took at least two hours to drive from Watonga to Geary because of downed power lines. Lines in Watonga still were being checked late Sunday afternoon. Randy Lewis, OG&E; Electric Services manager for community affairs, said Roman Nose Lodge electrical circuit was locked on and crews were investigating why it was on and trying to close it. He did not know how many power poles were down.

“The first problem is getting to the locations. Now we’re here and we’re trying to isolate it and trying to get them on. When they get the Roman Nose circuit back on it should bring most circuits back,” Lewis said.

OHP spokesman Chris West said there were hundreds of roof- top rescues and homes and businesses under water in Kingfisher. At midafternoon Kingfisher Creek had risen to 25 feet.

Two OHP helicopters responded to a vehicle that had been swept off the roadway into a field three-quarters of a mile north of King-fisher. The vehicle contained two people, who were plucked in dramatic fashion from their sinking pickup by one of the helicopters and Kingfisher Fire Chief Randy Poindexter.

Kingfisher County Sheriff’s Department reported all deputies out working the flood and no one able to speak about the flood.

Fire Capt. Tony Stewart, on his way out of Kingfisher Fire Department station for a rescue, said there had been “lots” of rescue during the afternoon, and at least 20 people had been pulled out of the water.

The storm dissipated by about 2 p.m. but significant flooding was reported in King-fisher County. Kingfisher Creek and Uncle John Creek had become lakes and significant property damage was reported.

Watonga Fire Chief Mark Huff said there are many houses with roofs gone and Watonga was hurt by both high wind and flooding.

“It looks like a war zone,” he said. “We had both wind and water, mostly wind. The water only affected parts of town.”

The water had receded somewhat by late afternoon but Huff said there were a number of flooded homes and businesses. There only were two minor injuries, and both were treated and released at Watonga Hospital.

The storm started about 11 p.m. Saturday and gradually worsened. The storm did not weaken or move on. Wind gusts of 82 mph were recorded at the airport and 80 mph at the fire department. Huff was operating from a mobile base furnished by the Oklahoma State Fire Marshal because his base was lost to the storm. Watonga received 9.07 inches of rain.

Watonga firefighters were busy with calls for trapped motorists on U.S. 281 and Okla-homa 33. One rescue was assisted by Greenfield firefighters from the south because a Watonga firetruck nearly washed off the road.

After a sleepless night, Huff said shelters have been set up by the Red Cross. Registration and food are available at St. Rose Catholic Church and sleeping facilities are available at First Baptist Church.

“I’ve lived here most of my life and been on the fire department 291/2 years and this is the worst I’ve seen,” he said.

Kingfisher Schools Superin-tendent Max Thomas said classes will be held today, but there will be limited bus service. Thomas said he has been told U.S. 81 will be open north of Kingfisher and Oklahoma 33 on the west. There will be limited bus service on the south. Buses will be operated where there is no risk, he said.

“If families want to bring them in, we welcome that, but use caution,” he said.

Thomas said there are two areas of Kingfisher that are low-lying and all school buildings are located on high ground.

Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management said for a period of time the storm, a remnant of Tropical Storm Erin, featured an “eye” common to tropical systems over water, according to Michaelann Ooten, spokeswoman for the state agency.

About 19,096 homes and businesses were reported without power across the state. About 13,651 are OG&E; customers and a large number of those are in the Oklahoma City metro area. About 500 Cimarron Electric Cooperative customers were without power in the Watonga and Fay areas in Blaine County.

A number of road closings also were announced.

• Oklahoma 33 east of Watonga: A bridge approach washed out 11/2 miles west of the Kingfisher County line.

• Kingfisher County: north-bound U.S. 81 between Kingfish-er and Okarche; Oklahoma 33 between Watonga and Kingfisher.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.