Oklahoma town braces for flood

Residents in Miami told to evacuate as flood woes continue across central U.S.

BY STAFF REPORT | Miami, Okla. | July 3, 2007

Heavy rains caused extensive flooding in eastern and southeastern Kansas.
Credit: Kansas Highway Patrol

High water washes over a bridge in Oklahoma.
Credit: Oklahoma Dept. of Emergency Management

Residents in Miami were advised to evacuate Monday as the town braced for a major flood which officials warned could be worse than the historic flood which hit the northeastern Oklahoma community more than 20 years ago.

"If you were flooded in 1986, you will receive floodwaters during this event as well," advised City Manager Michael J. Spurgeon.

Back then, the Neosho River crested at 26.26 feet at Stepp Ford Bridge, which caused major flooding in Miami, he noted. The predicted crest now was estimated at 1.74 feet above that previous flood level.

Spurgeon warned that flooding was "imminent" and that residents along the Neosho River and Tar Creek should evacuate. The Oklahoma National Guard was to be deployed to the town Monday night to assist with the evacuations. About 600 homes were under a mandatory evacuation order.

Temporary shelters were being set up at five local churches: First Assembly of God, First Baptist Church, First Christian, Mt. Olive Lutheran and Sacred Heart Catholic, he reported. Two of them opened on Monday afternoon. The American Red Cross was also assisting in relief operations.

"It's flooded here before, but not to this extent," said Sherry Schnakenberg, parish secretary at Mt. Olive Lutheran Church in Miami. Her church has been serving as a storage facility for furniture as the residents evacuated and removed what they could from their homes.

Schnakenberg said several Mt. Olive members have been affected by the flooding and her church will do what they can to help everyone whose homes were damaged.

Miami, located about 78 miles from Tulsa, has a population of nearly 14,000 people. It sits near the border of both Kansas and Missouri.

Spurgeon said some roads were already closed by rising water and that most others were expected to be cut off sometime Monday night.

"As a result, roads will be covered and access into and out of the community will be limited," he said.

Elsewhere in Oklahoma, officials in Durant and Bryan counties were concerned about the high water in Lake Texoma. The lake was expected to crest at 640 feet later this week and could flow over the spillway - something that has only happened twice before and which caused major flooding downstream.

Preliminary damage assessments began Monday in Pottawatomie and Shawnee counties, where the towns of Shawnee and Tecumseh were affected by high water.

Emergency management officials in Bartlesville and Washington counties estimated 2,500 to 3,000 residents have been displaced by flooding countywide since Friday. Comanche County emergency workers were assessing damages Monday as well.

All 77 counties in Oklahoma remained under a state of emergency. Severe flooding also hit Oklahoma in early May and 17 counties were still under that federal disaster declaration.

The National Weather Service reported that parts of Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas have received 5 to 12 inches of rain since last Saturday. Heavy rains have drenched the region in the past two weeks as well. The storms were blamed for 11 deaths.

Thousands of people remained evacuated in Kansas on Monday as severe flooding continued and a refinery oil spill threatened some waterways.

Residents in Osawatomie and Coffeyville spent another day out of their homes due to floodwaters. In Osawatomie, the Pottawatomie Creek and the Marais des Cygnes River forced almost half of the town's 4,600 residents to evacuate as the rivers neared record high levels of 50 feet. Some 50 to 60 homes were reported destroyed by the flood waters.

In Coffeyville, some 42,000 gallons of oil from a refinery spilled into the Verdigris River. Television images showed black and brown water mixing through the town as the oil slick moved downstream and threatened other waterways.

Officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency were on the scene. Independence, Coffeyville and Elk City have all shut down water intake systems. Independence was also coping with evacuations.

Flood warnings are still in effect for many Kansas counties, including Clair, Vernon, Cedar, Barton, Dade, Jasper, Lawrence, Cherokee, Crawford and Bourbon. Many roads were closed due to high water or due to wash-outs. Police were warning motorists not to drive through flooded areas.

Much of the rain has ended for Kansas, but rivers continue to crest.

In Texas, Gov. Rick Perry has declared 37 counties state disaster areas; six counties received federal disaster declarations.

The Texas Division of Emergency Management warned northern counties about more rain expected this week. Those areas already have been soaked by heavy rains since last week.

"The rainfall forecast for the next five days could generate significant runoff across most of Texas and will likely generate minor, to possible moderate, river flooding," according to the situation report. "Moderate river flooding is more likely in the vicinity of any heavier rainfall over central and north central Texas. Isolated flash flooding is a threat with the heavier showers and thunderstorms."

Flash flooding slammed the Burnet County community of Marble Falls, Texas, last week. A wall of water swept away mobile homes and cars.

Texas Baptist Men were working on debris cleanup in Burnet County and serving meals at a shelter in Cooke County. Adventist Community Services was also responding. The Salvation Army was responding in the hard-hit communities in Kansas and Oklahoma, including returning to Washington County, Okla., for the second time in less than three weeks.

Minor flooding was still affecting residents in Stephens, Eastland, Parker and Wichita counties. More than 300 homes across Parker and Eastland counties suffered flood damage. Officials reported severe flood damage in the Llano County town of Kingsland.

Flash flood and flood warnings remained in effect Tuesday for many counties in north, central and south Texas, as well as in Oklahoma.

Flooding is also expected in Vernon and Bates counties, Missouri as the Osage River hits record highs.

MInor flooding was also reported in parts northwestern Arkansas.

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