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More Rain Forces Okla. Evacuations

May 9, 2000

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ Another night of heavy rain across already saturated northeastern Oklahoma forced evacuations in two towns today, flooded roads and bridges and shut down schools in three districts.

Craig County Sheriff George Vaughn said boats and volunteers were being brought in to rescue people trapped by flood water in Vinita and to remove elderly residents in anticipation of further flooding as rivers fed by rain in Kansas continue to rise.

The National Weather Service said evacuations also were under way in Miami. The state Transportation Department closed sections of two highways in the area.

More than 4 inches of rain fell in parts of northeastern Oklahoma overnight and another inch of rain was expect today.

The latest flooding came as residents of Sapulpa, just west of Tulsa, continued the cleanup from a weekend storm that dumped 8 inches of rain on the region in about two hours. The floodwaters damaged more than 400 homes and killed one woman in Tulsa.

``Everything was lost. Everything,″ said Tom Dervin, standing outside his saturated home in Sapulpa said Monday. ``We had stuff float away that we don’t know where it went.″

Cereal boxes, cartons of pictures and bags of clothes filled his red pickup cab. In his house, a line of brown mud marks the spot where the water rushed chest-high into his home, flowing over counters and cabinets.

Flooding in Oklahoma and Missouri over the weekend killed at least three people and damaged hundreds of homes and businesses. Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating declared seven counties disaster areas, clearing the way for federal assistance.

In Sapulpa, the stench of stale water was strong as FEMA inspector Glenn Berry took notes of the damage.

``People don’t understand that the mold and mildew is so dangerous,″ he said. ``The sickness comes after the water if you don’t leave the house.″

In hard-hit Union, Mo., residents and volunteers began to pick up the pieces after flooding caused tens of millions of dollars in damage. Some 200 of the town’s 6,000 residents were left homeless.

Ed Grammer returned to his mobile home Monday to find a tree trunk pushed through one window, a barrel stuck in another and his new sofa dripping wet, stinking of creek water and dangling from where a wall used to be.

``I’m living with my parents now _ I really don’t know what’s going to happen,″ Grammer said. The sleeveless shirt, shorts and mud-caked tennis shoes he wore were the only clothes he had.

``I didn’t even have time to grab my wallet.″

Fifteen inches of rain fell in about six hours Saturday night and Sunday morning in Union, southwest of St. Louis. Two people who got caught on flooded roads were killed, and at least a dozen others were injured.

Others narrowly escaped as Flat Creek, normally little more than a trickle, washed away a mobile home park that sat along its banks. Grammer’s home and about two dozen others were strewn about like soda cans on a littered lot.

Flash floods and rising rivers also caused damage in nearby towns like Washington, St. Clair, Cedar Hill. Federal authorities were to join state crews Wednesday in assessing damage in eastern Missouri _ the first step in getting the area declared a federal disaster area and securing money to help residents rebuild their lives.

In the meantime, Gov. Mel Carnahan declared a flood emergency, freeing up state aid. The Missouri National Guard also was called in to help sort through the mess.

``This destruction is as bad as I’ve ever seen,″ Carnahan said after touring the area Monday. ``It looks like an earthquake. The sheer force and power of the water is almost incomprehensible.″

As people returned to their homes, many shared stories of heroics and kindness.

In a trailer next to Grammer’s, two women were unable to get out before the water tore the building from its concrete pad. They clung to a tree for five hours, water eventually reaching just below their necks, before they were rescued.

At another nearby trailer, Homer Birdwell’s 86-year-old mother’s life was spared thanks to her own ingenuity.

``She got up on top of her bed and was flashing a flashlight around so someone would see her,″ he said.

Grammer, his father, mother and an uncle, spent Monday searching up and down the creek bed for items that might have been washed out of the trailer. His father found a grandfather clock about 100 yards away. Inside, Grammer smiled as he found a small stereo undamaged. Destroyed was the 35-inch television he had just bought.

A neighbor, Don Vest, has seen enough. Vest, 67, lived on slightly higher ground so the inside of his trailer was not badly damaged. Still, he was loading up a pickup truck with his belongings.

``I’m moving out,″ Vest said. ``I never would have believed this until I saw it. And I don’t want to ever see it again. I was scared to death.″