KINGFISHER — Floodwaters have receded in Kingfisher, leaving behind some homes and businesses that suffered minor damage.
Steve Loftis, Kingfisher County Emergency Management director, said several businesses on the west side of the city had water in them, ranging from a few inches to as much as 2 feet.
“A lot of them are back open,” he said, adding that in most cases business owners and employees were able to clean things up quickly before reopening.
There also were a few houses that had a few inches of water inside when Kingfisher Creek and Uncle John Creek spilled out of their banks due to heavy rainfall over the past week.
For a time, U.S. 81 and Oklahoma 33 were closed, but they have been reopened, Loftis said.
Now, it’s just a matter of waiting to see what Mother Nature has in store. The area picked up another half inch on Tuesday during storms that stayed south of Enid as they moved east. National Weather Service had issued a tornado watch through 10 p.m. Tuesday for much of the state, including Garfield, Kingfisher, Grant, Alfalfa, Major and Blaine counties in Northwest Oklahoma.
There is a 50% chance of storms for the Enid area Wednesday, but NWS graphics show most of the wet weather is targeting central and the south-central portion of the state.
A couple of highways remained closed in the area as of Wednesday morning.
Oklahoma 8 was closed between U.S. 634 and Oklahoma 58 near Burlington, Oklahoma 38 was closed between Oklahoma 11 and Nescatunga near Salt Plains Lake and Oklahoma 8B was closed form Oklahoma 8 west to Aline in Alfalfa County, according to Oklahoma Department of Transportation. Also U.S. 64 between Oklahoma 14, west of Alva, and Oklahoma 50, near Freedom, in Woods County was closed because of damage. A detour was established from Oklahoma 14 to U.S. 412 to Oklahoma 50, according to ODOT.
In Kay County, U.S. 177 remained closed north of Oklahoma 11 in Blackwell; U.S. 77 was closed between Oklahoma 156 and Tonkawa; and Oklahoma 156 was closed between Marland and U.S. 60/U.S. 177.
South of Kingfisher, homes along U.S. 81 south of Dover were susceptible to flooding after the Cimarron River overflowed its banks, according to National Weather Service. The river was 2.1 feet over its 17-foot flood stage on Tuesday and was expected to rise close to 20 feet before beginning to recede Wednesday morning, falling below flood stage by mid-Saturday morning.
The Cimarron River will reach minor flood stage, as well, near Waynoka, according to NWS. Flood stage is 8 feet in the area, and the river has crested at 9.6 feet and will continue to fall to just above flood stage by Sunday. Near Ames, the Cimarron is at 11.1 feet, which is above its 10-foot flood stage, and moderate flooding is occurring, according to NWS. The river was expected to fall below flood stage by Tuesday evening.
In Kay County, the Chikaskia River has flooded several city blocks in northeast Blackwell, with some residences surrounded by about 3 feet of water, according to NWS. Oklahoma 177 north of Blackwell and Hubbard Road southeast of the city are closed. Blackwell Avenue is overtopped at the bridge crossing, and rural lands are covered by flooding up to 4 feet in Grant and Kay counties, the NWS reports. The river was near crest at 32.3 feet Tuesday morning, with flood stage at 29 feet. A slight additional rise was possible before it was expected to start falling Tuesday afternoon and go below flood stage by Wednesday, the NWS reports.
Salt For Arkansas River
The Salt Fork Arkansas River was at 23.0 feet, 6 feet above flood stage. The river has crested and will continue to fall to 17.6 feet by mid-Sunday morning.
Keystone Dam release
In Eastern Oklahoma, residents are battling historic flooding levels.
The Army Corps of Engineers has ratcheted up the flow from Keystone Dam, a hydroelectric dam northwest of Tulsa to 275,000 cubic feet per second to help drain the swollen Keystone Lake reservoir.
The popular recreational area drains into the Arkansas River, but water levels as of Tuesday were above normal — by a record 34 feet.
The reservoir drains a watershed of more than 22,000 square miles in areas of Northeastern Oklahoma and Southeastern Kansas, where up to 20 inches of rain has fallen in the past month. In all of 2018, the same areas recorded between 30 and 45 inches of rain.
The release of water from Keystone Dam is necessary to prevent the reservoir from spilling over the flood-control structure, which would allow floodwaters to flow uncontrolled down the river, said Preston Chasteen, deputy chief of public affairs for the Corps’ Tulsa District.
“The whole purpose of a dam is to capture that flood water and not let it run freely down the river,” he said. “If these dams weren’t in place to control these releases, I think the circumstances would be far worse than they currently are.”
Flooding woes hit communities in Oklahoma.
In Tulsa, officials warned that levees built in the 1940s were facing higher flows for longer periods of time than they’ve ever seen. By Tuesday, hundreds of homes in Sand Springs, Webbers Falls and other Oklahoma communities along the Arkansas River had been evacuated. More than 1.2 million people live in the Tulsa metropolitan area.
In addition to the dam’s releases, two other rivers that drain separate watersheds also are contributing to flooding, Chasteen said.
The Neosho River, whose watershed includes portions of Missouri and Arkansas, and the Vertigris River, which drains parts of Kansas and Oklahoma, merge with the Arkansas River in Muskogee, about 45 miles southeast of Tulsa.
Arkansas River crests after near-historic flooding
Donna Powell’s recollection of near-historic flooding is similar to scores of others who live along the Arkansas River, or any overflowing river in Oklahoma: Floodwaters rising toward her home before she and her family were forced to seek shelter.
Highways and homes around Muskogee, Okay, Fort Gibson and Webbers Falls still lie beneath the swollen river as is slowly recedes from a crest of 46.39 feet at 9 a.m. Sunday.
City of Muskogee Emergency Management Director Tyler Evans said water levels continued to improve. NWS in Tulsa reported Monday levels at the Port of Muskogee gauge had dropped about a half-foot since the Arkansas River began receding.
Rain, however, remains in the forecast during the next few days.
Muskogee Counter Emergency Management Director Jeff Smith said officials are monitoring lake levels and the weather.
“We’re watching what Keystone Dam, Fort Gibson Dam and Oologah are all putting out,” Smith said. “Then we can monitor how much water is coming through our channel.”
Muskogee County Emergency Management Services community relations coordinator Trish German said the entire town of Webbers Falls was evacuated.
District 2 Muskogee County Commissioner Stephen Wright said Monday that Webbers Falls remained underwater. He said he does not know when residents can come home.
“We’ll probably need a bigger effort when the water goes down,” Wright said. “Webbers Falls, it is a catastrophe. It’s bad, bad.”
Emergency road helps restock, restore Braggs
When Muskogee County Emergency Management workers approached Camp Gruber officials about building an emergency road to Braggs, they were told it was “impossible.”
“Apparently, they don’t know our men and the determination we have,” District 1 Commissioner Ken Doke said. “This isn’t the first time we’ve built an impossible road.”
The 7-mile back road extends over the mountain behind Camp Gruber to enter Braggs, opening a route to bring supplies to the flood-locked town. Up to that point Braggs had become inaccessible by traditional means because of near-historic flooding of the Arkansas River.
The first of the supplies — water, food and more packed into a truck and trailer — arrived via the emergency road Monday morning from a team headed by Sheriff Rob Frazier. Food wasn’t the only relief the action team provided; the road enabled workers with OG&E Electric Services and Lake Region Electric Cooperative to restore the town’s power at 7 p.m. Sunday.
Doke said efforts are underway by county and railroad officials for a contingency plan to secure Union Pacific rail service as a backup supply line.
“The reason we’re doing that is that rain is predicted for the next several days, and we are concerned that we could hold the relief road,” Doke said, noting the railroad would be used to deliver only supplies, not people. “We are working on a plan that would involve bringing in supplies with a rail truck on the railroad line between Fort Gibson and Braggs.”
National Guard aids communities
Oklahoma Army National Guard has been mobilized to parts of Northeast Oklahoma in response to flood and tornado damage.
More than 250 Oklahoma Army National Guard soldiers from 1st Battalion, 160th Field Artillery Regiment; 120th Engineering Battalion; and 1st Battalion, 279th Infantry Regiment, have conducted disaster relief missions, including the inspection of flood walls along the Arkansas River, filling thousands of sandbags to be placed along fatigued levees, setting up water pumps and stabilizing the historic WWII submarine USS Batfish.
Oklahoma National Guard aviation assets from the 245th Aviation Battalion have flown UH-60 Black Hawk and UH-72 Lakota helicopters more than 45 flight hours while assisting with rescue missions and relief efforts in the most devastated parts of the State.
Drivers urged to be cautious on county roads, bridges
Residents who live near flooded roadways and bridges are anxious for the water to recede so they can take their normal routes to work and home. But floodwaters are not the only danger.
As the recent wet weather pattern continues, more and more roads and bridges are being undermined by repeated cycles of flooding that soften the road base or wash it away.
Payne County resident Tim Thornburg had a close call recently that drove that lesson home.
As Thornburg approached a creek, he saw the roadway in the opposite lane had disappeared since the last time he drove it. He said the road ahead of him looked intact, but as he drove over it, the pavement began to give way.
“I heard a loud noise, like ‘bam!’ ‘bam!’” he said. “I managed to clear it, but then I stopped and got out to check the damage on my truck and see what kind of bullet I dodged. There was a big ditch behind me (where the road had been), and I could see water running under the asphalt. It had collapsed on about 50% of that lane.”
Thornburg escaped without any major injuries, but his truck suffered significant damage to its wheels, rims and suspension system as well as some minor body damage.
Payne County Commissioners Rocky Blasier and Zach Cavett both said road crews have been working almost nonstop since the flooding began about a week ago and are struggling just to keep the worst areas barricaded so people don’t drive into danger. It’s a situation being repeated across many Oklahoma counties.
Cavett said he has run out of barricades and “road closed” signs. It takes time to get more from manufacturers, so his crew will is building additional warning signs and barriers out of wood.
Both Blasier and Cavett say even when they do place signs, it seems to do little good. Some drivers go around them, and others either knock them down or steal them.
Blasier says he’s frustrated because it’s a matter of public safety.
“Every night we have had to go out and replace signs that they threw down or took,” he said. “They’re going to get somebody killed doing that.”