June 15, 2010

Flash flooding strands motorists in OKC

The Express-Star

— OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Flash flooding across the Oklahoma City area stranded motorists on their morning commutes Monday, prompting at least a half-dozen rescues and at least three interstate closures, authorities said.

No injuries were immediately reported but drivers were being warned to stay off the roads, Oklahoma Police Lt. Gamille Hardin said. Portions of interstates 35, 44 and 235 were closed, as were numerous smaller thoroughfares in and out of the metro area.

"There are cars where you can see just the rooftops, they're totally submerged in water," Hardin said. Footage from KOCO-TV showed a person bailing water out of the passenger-side window of a half-submerged car before being rescued by crews on a boat.

"There are various swift-water rescues that have occurred and are currently taking place across the city," said Oklahoma City emergency management director Frank Barnes. Fire crews went door-to-door in the northwest neighborhood of Ski Island, asking residents whose homes back up to Spring Creek to voluntarily evacuate while a nearby dam is evaluated. Rising water was creeping toward the top of the dam by late morning, Oklahoma City spokeswoman Kristy Yager said.

Anywhere from 1 to 3 inches of rain an hour were falling on parts of the city, and the National Weather Service said a few spots had received 9 inches of rain in a matter of hours. Lightning knocked out electricity to some areas.

"There's been showers and thunderstorms almost continually for the better part of six hours," said weather service forecaster Forrest Mitchell. "There are road closings too numerous to mention across Oklahoma County.

The main roadway into Will Rogers World Airport was shut down for more than an hour early Monday, and airport officials said several flight delays were reported.

"Downtown is flooded," Yager said. "We have a few traffic lights that are out causing problems. Stalled vehicles are causing problems. Crews are in the same situation that our travelers are in. They are stuck in this traffic as well."

Cleanup begins for

tornado-hit areas

NORMAN (AP) — In May, two F-4 tornadoes touched down in Cleveland County, ripping apart homes and businesses.

Michelann Ooten of the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management said 377 applications for disaster assistance have now been received from Cleveland County residents.

So far, $720,387 in aid has been approved for individuals and business owners in Cleveland County affected by the tornadoes and other severe weather that occurred May 10-13.

"This includes assistance with home and business repairs, rental assistance, reimbursement for medical expenses and other needs assistance related to the storms," Ooten said.

Ooten said Gov. Brad Henry's request for public assistance, which includes Cleveland County, is still pending.

"Public assistance is for state and local governments to help with infrastructure repairs and response costs," she said.

Assistance for 10 counties was requested, and preliminary damage assessments show $7.4 million in infrastructure damages and response costs associated with the storms, Ooten said. Of that figure, $2,389,537 was from Cleveland County.

Shawn O'Leary, the City of Norman's director of public works, said the city is awaiting President Barack Obama's declaration of a disaster for this area.

"That's the key federal action that confirms that the city will be reimbursed for our clean-up costs," O'Leary said.