Oklahoma Flooding Leads to Dramatic Rescues

June 16, 2010

Recent record-busting rainfall in Oklahoma led to dramatic rescues from swift floodwaters, but officials and residents acknowledged the outcome could have been far worse.

No one had to be hospitalized June 14, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Health. There was just one unconfirmed report of a death. Stranded motorists climbed trees and waited for rescuers, including one crew whose boat sank and had to be saved themselves.

“We were lucky to get the people out of the high-water areas,” said Oklahoma City Fire Department Battalion Chief Tommy Iago. “The places we couldn’t walk them out, we used boats.”

Fire officials in Oklahoma City and the nearby suburb of Edmond launched more than 60 swift-water rescues after a barrage of thunderstorms dumped as much as 10 inches of rain in some areas in a matter of hours. More rain fell Monday night, and the National Weather Service said the 7.62 inches at Will Rogers International Airport in Oklahoma City topped the previous record of 7.53 inches set on Sept. 22, 1970.

Cynthia Banister said fire crews had to rescue a man clinging to a tree near her Edmond home after water topped his SUV.

“We’re very thankful. Just think of what happened in Arkansas recently,” Banister said, referring to flash flooding that killed 20 people at a campground. “It could have been much worse.”

One boat carrying rescuers in Oklahoma City sank just as it reached a 17-year-old girl, forcing the firefighters to take to treetops and await help themselves.

“This is the first time I’ve encountered anything close to this,” fire Lt. Joe Smith said. “It didn’t feel very good. I like to be in control of the action.”

The heaviest rainfall was reported across sections of northern Oklahoma City, forcing the closure of some roads and interstates. The torrential downpour sent creeks and rivers over their banks, and the raging currents ripped asphalt from roadways and blew manhole covers from pipes.

KSWO-TV in Lawton reported on its Web site that witnesses told police a taxi driver drowned Monday night while trying to push his car out of high water. Police and sheriff’s department dispatchers would not confirm the death, and a spokesman for Comanche County – about 80 miles southwest of Oklahoma City – did not return a call.

Betty Diehl was house-sitting at her daughter’s home in Oklahoma City when a river of water came down the road.

State officials have reported each of the 19 buildings in the state Capitol complex have some damage after the storms.

Officials with the state’s Central Services Department say the problems range from minor water damage and leaky roofs to submerged electrical boxes.

Facilities division deputy director Randy Ross says the state Capitol building had only minor leaks during the Monday flooding. But he says water got into a fuse box at the state Transportation Department’s Asphalt Design Lab. And the building that houses the Agriculture, Food and Forestry Department had water seep into electrical boxes.

Ross says it could take several days before officials are able to estimate the cost of the damage.

Associated Press Writer Sean Murphy contributed to this report.

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