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Oklahoma Hangs On As Heavy Rain Continues To Soak Region

Clean-up continues across Texas and Oklahoma after days of heavy rain and flooding. In Oklahoma, May is already the wettest month on record and the rains aren’t done yet. More water means more flooding in a state where the soil is already saturated and rivers are overflowing.

Justin Nimmo walks up the muddy front steps of his rent-to-own store in Purcell, Oklahoma, a little town about 40 miles south of Oklahoma City. Inside, fans and dehumidifiers purr as they strain to dry out his showroom.

“They’ve already taken off the bottom of the walls to let it air out and supposed to be back today to start the demolition,” Nimmo said.

Nimmo’s building is elevated four feet to be out of the flood zone. He also sandbagged the building as rain hammered Oklahoma. But none of this was enough. Walnut Creek poured over its banks nearly one mile in each direction. Nimmo was here as the water rose this past weekend. He didn’t get out in time, and the Oklahoma Highway Patrol had to fetch him in an air boat.

“They actually picked me off of the front porch north corner,” Nimmo said. “I had to jump over the fence to jump on then they just took it back up Green Avenue and parked it in the middle of the road. It was amazing.”

Those types of water rescues have become common in Oklahoma since May 6 when the first flash flood hit. The high waters have killed ten people, and another person died in one of the 45 tornadoes that have formed in the state since the beginning of the month.

Governor Mary Fallin has declared a state of emergency in every county. Touring damage in Purcell on Wednesday, she said the flooding in Oklahoma is the worst she’s ever seen.

“Right now it’s very important that was clear the roads, make sure that all the roads and infrastructure is safe, and warn the people please do not drive into any area where this is swift water or any kind of flooding,” Fallin said.

Oklahoma Emergency Management Director Albert Ashwood said this flood has caused damage in all but six counties. Most of it has been from flash floods, but as the rain continues, swollen rivers are overflowing their banks.

“The bottom line is you’re going to find a lot of flood damages now in areas that we don’t consider flood plains. So it’s not going to be covered by flood insurance that people have received and purchased. It’s going to be something that they’re going to need assistance from their government on because your homeowners’ policy does not include, or does not cover flood damages,” Ashwood said.

Three counties have already been declared a federal disaster area, but Ashwood expects two-thirds of the state to receive that declaration when all is said and done.

Sam Porter, the state director for Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, has lived in Oklahoma since he was born in the 1950s and he said he has never seen flooding of this magnitude. Wednesday in Norman, Porter led a workshop to teach volunteers how to help homeowners salvage their flood-ravaged homes.

“We have 38 counties that have homes flooded in Oklahoma. We realize it's so massive, there's no way we can get to all of them, so we wanted to share with the state, especially with those impacted, what we know how to clean out a home and keep it from getting mold setting in,” Porter said.

The rain brought the state out of a drought that’s lasted four years. Chris Kirby with the Oklahoma Wheat Commission said this year’s wheat crop will be better than last year’s. But that doesn’t mean it’ll be a bumper crop.

“Once the combines start rolling, then we’re going to see what the effects of this rain is,” Kirby said. “It’s all across the state. Everyone has been flooded. So, we just don’t know yet.”

And Oklahoma won’t dry out for a while. More severe storms are in the forecast each day until Sunday.

Jacob McCleland spent nine years as a reporter and host at public radio station KRCU in Cape Girardeau, Mo. His stories have appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered, Here & Now, Harvest Public Media and PRI’s The World. Jacob has reported on floods, disappearing languages, crop duster pilots, anvil shooters, Manuel Noriega, mule jumps and more.
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