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Oklahoma Hangs On As Heavy Rain Continues To Soak Region


This week's storms and floods in Texas and Oklahoma have left at least 19 people dead, and there are still people missing. In Oklahoma, May is already the wettest month on record, and the rains aren't done yet. More water will only mean more flooding in the state where the soil is already saturated and rivers are overflowing. Jacob McCleland sent this report from member station KGOU.

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

JUSTIN NIMMO: They've already taken off part of the bottom of the walls to let it air out and supposed to be back today to start the demolition.

MCCLELAND: 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 airboat.

NIMMO: They actually picked me up off of the front porch, north corner. I had to jump over the fence to jump on it. And then they just took it straight up back Green Avenue and parked it on the middle of the road. It's, like, amazing.

MCCLELAND: Those types of water rescues have become common in Oklahoma since May the sixth when the first flash flood hit. The high waters have killed 10 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 today, she said the flooding in Oklahoma is the worst she's ever seen.


MARY FALLIN: By now, it's very important that we clear the roads, make sure that all the roads and the infrastructure is safe and warn the people, please do not drive into any area where there's swift water or any type of flooding.

MCCLELAND: Oklahoma emergency management director Albert Ashwood says 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.


ALBERT ASHWOOD: The bottom line is, is you're going to find a lot of flood damages now in areas that we don't consider floodplains. 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 - does not cover flood damages.

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

CHRIS KIRBY: Once the combines start rolling, then we're going to see what the effects of this rain is 'cause it's all across the state. Everybody has been flooded. So we just don't know yet.

MCCLELAND: And Oklahoma won't dry out for a while. More severe storms are in the forecast each day until Sunday. For NPR News, I'm Jacob McCleland in Norman, Okla. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jacob McCleland
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.