Rain Keeps Falling In Oklahoma As State's Levees Are Tested

May 29, 2019
Originally published on May 29, 2019 5:01 pm
Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Excuse me. There are 77 counties in Oklahoma, and every one is under a state of emergency. Tornadoes have whipped through parts of the state in the last week, and the bigger issue is flooding. Swollen rivers from weeks of heavy rain are testing levees and swallowing entire neighborhoods in northeast Oklahoma. The National Weather Service is warning that every town along the Arkansas River should expect to see near-historic water levels.

And as NPR's Nathan Rott reports, the rain keeps falling.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: Matt Breiner is standing on a bridge near downtown Tulsa, looking at the Arkansas River below.

(SOUNDBITE OF RIVER RUNNING)

ROTT: Its waters are a frothing, rust-brown color. Dark tangles of trees and debris keep bobbing by. Asked for his thoughts, Breiner shrugs.

MATT BREINER: I don't know. I'm out words, man. It's just - takes my breath away.

ROTT: Breiner lives just up the hill, and he says he's seen the river flood before. Most folks here have.

BREINER: But nothing to this degree. I've never seen it this high. What if - if it's going on here, what further down the river?

ROTT: Further down the river, it's a mess. Driving east and south out of Tulsa along the swollen banks of the Arkansas River, roads are closed, and fields are flooded. And once again today, it's been raining. Raindrops pop off the windshield.

(SOUNDBITE OF RAIN FALLING)

ROTT: I'm looking down at my map, and it shows the Arkansas River, you know, a ways over to the north from where I am right now. But on either side of the highway, it's water - basically driving on a bridge.

On either side, parks, hay fields and businesses are flooded.

There's a home.

Further along, entire towns have been inundated, their residents forced to flee to emergency shelters and donation centers like the one at the First Baptist Church in the town of Warner about 80 miles outside of Tulsa.

Benita Teague is with her family outside the church. They just finished loading her car with supplies.

BENITA TEAGUE: Food and blankets and towels and toothpaste and toothbrush, everything that, you know...

ROTT: Everything that they didn't have a chance to grab when they fled their home almost a week ago in nearby Webbers Falls.

TEAGUE: We got evacuated the 23rd. And you know, we've been gone ever since then, so we don't know what we got left or, you know - I think we lost everything we got. I don't know.

ROTT: A co-worker who left town later, Teague says, told her that the water was up to her home's rafters.

Inside the church, Sandy Wright, the mayor of Webbers Falls, is meeting with volunteers who are organizing canned foods, diapers and other goods.

(CROSSTALK)

ROTT: In a quieter back room, Wright says that her home has been flooded, too. Most of the homes in the roughly 600-person town have been.

SANDY WRIGHT: Most of the town sits right on the Arkansas River. So you know, when the waters came up, it just went right through the town.

ROTT: Wright says that people are anxious to go back, but the waters are still too high. She's met with some who fear that they lost more than their homes but their crops, their livestock, their entire livelihoods.

WRIGHT: And they don't know what to do. You know, everybody's just standing in limbo, not knowing what to do. But we're strong. We will be back and be stronger for it.

ROTT: But first, she says, they just need it to stop raining. Nathan Rott, NPR News, Warner, Okla. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.