Preliminary Damage Assessments Continue After Oklahoma Floods

July 10, 2007

As river levels continued to drop and dry weather prevailed in most parts of Oklahoma on July 8, preliminary damage assessments from recent flooding began coming in.

In Miami, one of the hardest-hit areas, City Manager Mike Spurgeon said officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency told him that 647 structures in the Ottawa County town had been affected by the flooding of the Neosho River and Tar Creek.

Of those, 236 are deemed as destroyed and 266 others suffered major damage, Spurgeon said. He said that dollar estimates of damages won’t be available for a few days, and that municipal infrastructure assessment had yet to begin.

President Bush issued a federal disaster declaration July 7 for Ottawa and Washington counties, freeing federal funds to supplement state and local recovery efforts.

That declaration “gives you a ray of hope that you can start rebuilding your community,” Spurgeon said. “We know that damage to municipal infrastructure could be in the millions (of dollars), but this tells us as a people that we are going to have the opportunity to rebuild.”

Spurgeon noted that Miami had seen tough times before, including the closure of a large B.F. Goodrich tire manufacturing plant in 1986 that dealt the town a severe economic blow.

“We’re a very proud people that have dealt with adversity,” he said. “We come together as a community any time there’s been a devastating situation. … Miami will recover from this, because the community’s biggest resource is its people.”

The Neosho River remained more than three feet above its 15-foot flood stage on Sunday afternoon, but was expected to fall below flood stage by early Monday, said Pete Snyder, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Tulsa.

Other river levels in northeastern Oklahoma also were falling or leveling off, Snyder said.

The Caney River near Ramona in Washington County was expected to fall below its flood stage of 26 feet on Sunday. The Arkansas River near Muskogee hit its peak of about 311/2 feet – about 31/2 feet above flood stage – and should hover at that level before beginning to drop slowly, he said.

“It’s as high as it’s going to go,” Snyder said of the Arkansas.

In Caddo County in southwestern Oklahoma, officials have estimated that it will cost about $800,000 to repair two washed-out bridges in the western part of the country, state Rep. Joe Dorman, D-Rush Springs, said.

In the Caddo County town of Cyril, Dorman said the sewer system is at maximum capacity and that excess rainwater is seeping out of manholes. Vacuum trucks are being used to take away the excess water and make sure the city’s sewer lagoon does not flood, he said.

“Even though we’ve had a couple of days of dryness, we’re still seeing the effects from the (wet) weather,” said Dorman, who accompanied local, state and federal officials on Saturday as they made damage assessments.

At Lake Texoma in southern Oklahoma, the water level remained about an inch over the 640-foot-high concrete spillway that allows excess water to drain from the lake, but no significant flooding was expected as a result.

Ross Adkins, a spokesman for the Tulsa District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said it will likely be several days before the water level drops significantly below the 640-foot mark.

“It will take days for some of that water that landed upstream from the dam (in the Red River) to get there,” Adkins said. “Eventually it will slow down to the point where we’re releasing more water than what is coming in.”

In Kansas, some of those affected after 71,400 gallons of crude oil spilled from the Coffeyville Resources refinery and mixed with floodwater have filed a federal class-action lawsuit, said Andrew Hutton, a Wichita lawyer involved in the litigation.

Refinery spokesman Steve Eames declined to discuss the lawsuit.

The oil traveled down the Verdigris River into Oklahoma, where it threatened to reach Lake Oologah, one source of drinking water for Tulsa. The Environmental Protection Agency installed an 1,800-foot boom across the river in northern Oklahoma to soak up the remnants of the spill.

Skylar McElhaney, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality, did not returned repeated phone messages about the spill cleanup left Sunday by The Associated Press.

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