Extraordinary rain blankets Tulsa

Heavy rains in Tulsa and throughout Oklahoma have caused flash flooding, damaging winds and at least 25 tornadoes in May.

At least three state residents have died as a result of the rash of storms and more than 800 buildings have been damaged.

According to the Oklahoma Mesonet, Tulsa received more than 15 inches of rain during the last two weeks of May. Tulsa has had more than 22 inches of precipitation in 2015. Tulsa got a total of 27.5 inches of rain in 2014.

Flooding at Keystone Lake has closed several marinas and boat docks and could put a damper on summer activities. One bright spot is that Skiatook Lake is getting back to normal after low levels due to several years of below-average rainfall. The lake has risen to over 700 feet and is more than 75 percent full.

The Oklahoma Army National Guard came to the aid of several Oklahoma communities last week after torrential rains caused flash flooding. The flooding contaminated several communities’ drinking water and stranded numerous people.

The Oklahoma Army National Guard delivered a total of 12 military potable water tanks, known as water buffalos, to communities in Grady, McCurtain and Bryan Counties following the contamination of their drinking water by flood waters.

The water buffalos, which hold up to 400 gallons of water, were requested by the emergency managers of each county through Oklahoma Emergency Management in Oklahoma City. They were delivered to predetermined locations full of fresh drinking water. Once delivered, each of the county emergency managers is responsible for ensuring that the water buffalos are filled and inspected regularly.

A total of 22 Oklahoma Army National Guard soldiers from the 45th Field Artillery Brigade, headquartered in Mustang and the 90th Troop Command, headquartered in Oklahoma City, took part in the missions.

The Oklahoma Army National Guard also launched a UH-60 “Blackhawk” helicopter, with four Guardsmen on board, to assist in the rescue of 13 Oklahomans who had been trapped by rising flood waters near Broken Bow. Several attempts to reach the stranded Oklahomans by boat had failed, but a final attempt was successful and all 13 were rescued before the Blackhawk arrived.

Guard helicopters also dropped hay to stranded cattle near Muskogee.

Due to widespread damage to roads and bridges caused by recent flooding, Gov. Mary Fallin has instructed the Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) to expedite bidding on county infrastructure projects and to explore additional means of supporting recovery efforts.  Fallin also said that the extent of the recovery effort would not be known until flooding recedes.

“Right now, we don’t know the full extent of county-level needs because we don’t know the full extent of the flood damage,” said Fallin. “We won’t know that until the water levels recede.

“We do know, however, that there will be infrastructure needs on the local level and that the state needs to play an active role in helping the counties any way we can. I’ve asked ODOT to do everything in their power to support local road and bridge repairs, including expediting the process by which they award contracts.”

The governor does not have the legal authority to redirect money from the Rainy Day Fund to county infrastructure projects, as some legislators and county commissioners have requested. However, Fallin said she was confident the state would find other ways to provide additional support to county-led recovery and repair efforts.

“Transportation Secretary Gary Ridley and ODOT Director Michael Patterson are working hard to find additional ways we can provide state support for eligible local infrastructure repairs,” said Fallin. “We are making sure, for counties hit the hardest by these storms and floods, that help is on the way.”

The governor has declared a state of emergency for all 77 counties. The new state budget cuts $12,326,764 from the Oklahoma Department of Transportation.

State Reps. Brian Renegar and Donnie Condit, both D-McAlester, sent a letter to Gov. Mary Fallin on, requesting disaster relief assistance. And Rep. John Bennett, R-Sallisaw, asked that his name be included on that letter.

The letter stated that the $71,900,000 cut from the $254,000,000 million county improvement fund for roads and bridges “is already sorely missed.”

They request that money be used from the state Rainy Day fund to help rural roads and bridges.

The American Red Cross is helping people in Texas and Oklahoma where devastating floods and tornadoes pounded the states over past two weeks.

More than 220 people spent their Memorial Day in Red Cross shelters in the two states.

Since early May, Red Cross workers have opened 30 shelters, served more than 23,000 meals and snacks, handed out 31,000 relief items and cleaning supplies. Nearly 700 Red Crossers are helping in Texas along with 22 emergency response vehicles. Additional volunteers and vehicles are on alert if needed.

Texas has been under the gun of a powerful storm system since early May, suffering repeated and ongoing severe weather and torrential rains. The situation worsened over the holiday weekend as more flooding hit the state, including parts of major cities such as Houston, Austin, San Antonio and Wichita Falls.

The Red Cross has been helping people in parts of Oklahoma since tornadoes hit the state in early May. The Red Cross opened shelters and workers are providing meals and snacks and cleaning items to those affected.  To donate, visit www.redcross.org, call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).

Fallin announced that FEMA has approved the state’s request for disaster assistance for three Oklahoma counties hit hard by flooding, tornadoes, severe storms and straight-line winds.

The disaster assistance benefits individuals and business owners affected by severe storms that have occurred since May 5 in Cleveland, Grady and Oklahoma counties. The designation makes available federal assistance for housing repairs or temporary housing, U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) low-interest loans for individuals and businesses to repair or replace damaged property, disaster unemployment assistance, and grants for serious needs and necessary disaster expenses not met by other programs.

Other counties could be added to the declaration in the future. Damage assessments of storms that struck other parts of the state since May 10 are continuing.

“I appreciate FEMA for quickly coming to the aid of Oklahomans in these three counties,” said Fallin. “As damage assessments continue, my hope is that the federal government recognizes the considerable losses many families and businesses in other areas of the state have suffered as well.”

Fallin said that, regardless of county, those with storm or flooding damage to their homes or businesses should reach out to FEMA and report their losses.

“If you live in Oklahoma and have suffered storm damages, please report your losses to FEMA,” Fallin said. “Doing so will help to support the case for additional federal assistance for the many Oklahoma families and businesses in need.”

State Highway 1 (Talimena Drive) was closed between U.S. 271 and U.S. 259 because of storm-related erosion. U.S. 270 was closed between Wister and Heavener and U.S. 271 at Wister. U.S. 259 five miles south of S.H. 63 was closed temporarily because of a rock slide that began 80 feet above the roadway.  Oklahoma Department of Transportation maintenance crews cleaned up the site on Memorial Day.

In Hughes County, Emergency Management Director John E. Roberts Jr. estimated infrastructure storm damage at approximately $1.5 million to $2 million.

President Obama signed an Oklahoma disaster declaration and authorized federal aid to supplement state, tribal and local recovery efforts in areas affected by “severe storms, tornadoes, straight-line winds and flooding” during the period of May 5-10. However, residents of just three counties – Cleveland, Grady and Oklahoma – qualify for federal aid under that declaration.

Submitted photo

State Highway 1 was damaged during heavy rains.