Flash flooding disrupts residents in MO, OK

BY SUSAN KIM | Union, MO | May 8, 2000


Rushing walls of water capsized homes and washed away cars in eastern Missouri and Oklahoma early Sunday.

Fourteen inches of rain fell when a storm stalled and continued to redevelop over the area for six hours. Rain inundated Franklin and Jefferson counties,

west of St. Louis, and caused dangerous whitecap water that rose up to doorways in a matter of minutes.

The National Guard helped evacuate hundreds of people Sunday night and continued to clean up debris on Monday. Quick-rising floodwaters killed three

people, two in Missouri and a third in Oklahoma. All three died when their vehicles were overturned or washed away by floodwaters on the road.

Washed-out roads and ripped-out bridges continued to slow damage assessment efforts on Monday.

Twenty-two mobile homes near Flat Creek were washed away, crushing each other and leaving a huge debris pile in what used to be a mobile home

park. Normally a small stream, Flat Creek rose into whitecap water so quickly that many residents said it seemed more like a tornado than a flood.

Floating debris, vehicles, and propane tanks became hazardous missiles as the water flow gained speed.

If tornado sirens had not warned people to evacuate at 1 a.m. Sunday morning, many more would have perished, emergency management officials

reported. Some gripped tree branches for two hours until firefighters could rescue them.

"It happened like a tornado," said St. Louis resident Rea Finn. "As soon as the rain stopped, the water started rushing off, but it left this devastation

behind."

The American Red Cross has set up relief centers in Union. Homes in St. Clair also sustained damages. "Roads are still closed and washed out," said Phil

Turner, pastor at the First Baptist Church in St. Clair, which had water damage as well. "A number of churches sustained damage. Our flat roof simply

wouldn't hold the amount of water that fell. The office complex got inundated. My phone line got wet and so I can't access that."

Turner predicted that, for some survivors in St. Clair recovery will be financially impossible. "Many of our church members sustained lower-level damage

in their homes," he said. "Some of them had healthcare equipment that was destroyed."

St. Clair, a high and hilly community, took more damage than usual because a hailstorm last month caused roof damage that had not yet been repaired,

he added.

Flooding also occurred along the Missouri River in the community of Washington. Shelters were opened in churches and public buildings, but authorities

said many people left those to stay with relatives.

In Oklahoma, hundreds of families had to be evacuated in the Tulsa area. In the community of Sapulpa, some 200 homes and 12 businesses were flooded,

according to Ben Frizzell, public information officer for the Oklahoma Emergency Management Agency. The nearby town of Kiefer was inundated as

well, and at least 126 people were affected by the floods in Sand Springs. In Coweta, emergency workers used boats and jet skis to pull people from cars

and homes.

Preliminary assessments indicated that up to 200 more homes may have sustained flood damage in the Tulsa area. At least three state roads are still

closed because of floodwaters, mudslides, or washed-out bridges.

"Teams from FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and the SBA (Small Business Administration) are on the ground conducting more detailed

damage assessments," said Frizzell. "Some homes took as much as four feet of water. We're not yet sure of the level of insurance people have."

The same slow-moving system spawned thunderstorms in the southern Plains and western Gulf Coast states last week. The storm front dropped

grapefruit-size hail on parts of Wyoming and western Nebraska Saturday.

Many residents recalled the flood of 1993, which inundated huge areas of the Mississippi and Missouri river valleys.

On Monday, gray skies continued to threaten the saturated areas, which will sustain even more damage if more rain falls. Severe weather, including

heavy rain, was forecast tonight and into Tuesday across northeastern Oklahoma, and rain was possible during the night in parts of Missouri. The

strongest storms were forecast over western Michigan into northern Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, eastern Kansas, and Oklahoma. Isolated showers

and thunderstorms also were possible across western and northern Texas.

In the midwest, more rain would help ease the drought for increasingly desperate farmers. South central Missouri had a fire disaster earlier this year

when more than 50 brush and wildfires spread rapidly across the state. Winds of up to 40 mph, low humidity, and dry brush created precariously hot and

dry conditions. The largest number of fires and structural damage occurred in Camden and Laclede counties, with the heaviest concentration of damage

in Camden County. The Community Interagency Disaster Organization is still responding to that disaster.

Many of the fires were the result of careless burning of trash and debris by citizens that got out of control, according to the Missouri Emergency

Management Agency (MEMA). Ongoing drought conditions have aggravated the fire hazard in many other states as well. In Iowa, residents have begun

to ration water use.

Tornadoes and damage from severe thunderstorms were also reported in Minnesota over the weekend.


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