'Flood of the decade' leaves at least two dead in northeast Oklahoma
Monday, May 25, 2015 12:00 am
Widespread flash flooding Saturday night and Sunday morning left at least two people dead, including a Claremore firefighter involved in a high-water rescue, after storms dumped up to 6 inches of rain in parts of northeast Oklahoma.
The body of another man, also believed to be a drowning victim, was found Sunday morning in Kiefer in Creek County.
Fire Capt. Jason Farley died during a rescue in a housing addition just southwest of Claremore, Fire Chief Sean Douglas said.
Farley, a 19-year veteran of the department, was one of two firefighters swept into a drainage ditch. His body was recovered about 1 a.m. Sunday and the incident is still under investigation, Douglas said.
The body of another man was found about 10 a.m. in the 10500 block of West 186th Street in Kiefer, said Police Chief Johnny O’Mara. It appears that man may have been a drowning victim, he said.
“That’s the line of thinking right now,” O’Mara said.
The man’s name had not been released Sunday night pending notification of relatives.
The Tulsa area received between 2.5 inches to more than 6 inches of rain Saturday night and Sunday, National Weather Service meteorologist Mike Teague said. The office said on its website Sunday afternoon that it was “difficult to overstate additional flood potential” and called the deluge the “flood of the decade” for eastern Oklahoma.
The next wave of precipitation was projected to arrive late Monday, with rainy weather lingering through next weekend, forecasters said.
The heavy rain also may have contributed to a hydroplaning pickup driven by a teenager, which crossed the center line and killed a passenger in an oncoming car Saturday evening on Delaware Avenue in south Tulsa, police said.
The Tulsa Fire Department reported on Twitter that it made 55 responses between 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. Saturday.
Teague said the NWS office received reports of “anywhere from minor flooding to water in houses in Sapulpa and the fatality in Claremore.”
Flooding had closed dozens of roads and highways around the state, Oklahoma 20 between Oklahoma 11 and Harvard Avenue, and Oklahoma 11 between 76th Street North and 86th Street North in Tulsa County.
A flooded Sapulpa neighborhood near Kelly Lane Park was evacuated early Sunday. Jeff Sutterfield, who lives on the edge of the neighborhood, said firefighters knocked on his door at about 5 a.m. and suggested he and the other occupants exit the house.
The water was already up to the first step of his front porch, so he unplugged all the appliances, and he and his girlfriend were able to drive safely to higher ground, with their dogs in tow.
Some of his neighbors were helped through the high water by emergency workers and others had to be evacuated by boat, Sutterfield said.
The water never entered his house Sunday but he took precautions just in case.
“Basically anything we didn’t want destroyed we put up high,” he said.
Several hours later, Sutterfield stood outside his house on Park Street near Taft Avenue as the water was receding. His lawn was strewn with trash and worms were wriggling all over the ground.
“I could have sat on my front porch and gone fishing,” he joked.
Earlier in the day he had found a mole struggling to swim, so he moved it to his backyard, which did not flood.
“It’s definitely been one crazy morning,” Sutterfield said.
People drove by throughout the morning to see the flooded areas in Sapulpa and take pictures. Several families walked through Kelly Lane Park later in the morning to see what the rain had done to Rock Creek.
As the nearby neighborhood was being evacuated, Antaunetta Burr was trying to get to work at a Braum’s at 701 S. Main St. It took her about an hour and a half longer than usual because of the flooded streets, she said.
“I ended up having to turn around at least four times,” she said.
She has lived in Oklahoma 13 years and hasn’t seen much flooding, Burr said.
“I’ve never seen it like this before,” she said. “Never, ever.”
Her coworker Meryah Sims lives close to the store and was about two houses away from the flooded area. She and other residents said they weren’t expecting flooding, even as the heavy rains started to fall.
“I went to sleep,” Sims said. “I wasn’t worried.”
Roads and bridges have been heavily impacted across the state, the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management said, adding that motorists are cautioned to stay off damaged roads and avoid any flooded roads or moving water.
“After nearly three weeks of rain and flooding, roads that were still passable Friday are literally crumbling away (Sunday),” said OEM Director Albert Ashwood in a statement.
“It is incredibly dangerous to drive or walk through flooded waters as we don’t know what may be underneath or whether a remaining road will hold up.”