Record-breaking rainfall had emergency authorities rushing to assistance late Saturday and on Sunday morning, as floods drenched Oklahoma and Texas Panhandle. The emergency crews had carried out 48 flooding rescues in Oklahoma City alone by early Sunday, CNN reports, while one firefighter had died while attempting a high-water rescue, in the town of Claremore, near Tulsa. Several people have been evacuated from their attics and roofs, after they became trapped while trying to avoid the rising water. Oklahoma City has experienced the wettest month ever recorded, according to CNN. Rain continued to fall Sunday.
The National Weather Service released a statement Saturday warning that the flash-flood potential had created “an extremely dangerous and life threatening situation,” advising residents of various areas of the Great Plains to move to high ground. Dozens of counties were covered by the warnings, while Elk City, Oklahoma, and Wichita Falls, Texas, issued evacuation orders Saturday night, AP reported. Rocklahoma, a music festival in Oklahoma near Tulsa, was evacuated due to the weather, as wind and high water ravaged roads and buildings.
By late Saturday night, 3.15 inches of rain had fallen in Oklahoma City, making the monthly total rainfall 17.61 inches. “It ... shatters the all-time monthly record of 14.66 inches set in June of 1989,” CNN meteorologist Sean Morris told the network. Up to 6 inches had fallen in the metro area by Sunday morning. Meanwhile, Wichita Falls was also set for “historic” flooding, according to The Weather Service — leading the agency to call for the evacuation of 2,177 homes.
Fox News reports that the body of an unnamed firefighter was discovered inside a Claremore storm drain early Sunday. Authorities believe he drowned in the flood-waters while on duty. Aside from this casualty, no other serious injuries or deaths have so far been reported.
Blanchard, 30 miles due south of Oklahoma City, experienced extremely high winds, according to local station News 9, destroying several farm barns. In Oklahoma City, too, KOCO-TV reported that a Shell station had its roof blown off by the wind.
Lieutenant Jeri Skrocki of the Hays County Sheriff’s Office told CNN that Wimberley, Texas, had prepared for the flooding by establishing four emergency shelters in schools, a nursing home and a community center. The nearby Blanco River reached an "unprecedented" depth of 39 feet.
Firefighters, needless to say, had their work cut out for them — a situation made no better by many residents driving into high water. In Tulsa, the rescue crews reported 55 rescues on Saturday night, over half of which were responding to distress calls from cars stuck in the floods. In an attempt to alleviate the situation, the Oklahoma Department of Transportation issued state-wide road closures.
The substantial flooding comes at a time when western Oklahoma and segments of the Texas Panhandle are in fact experiencing moderate drought — or at least unusually parched conditions. But thunderstorms on Saturday morning drenched the dry ground, and continuing, heavy rainfall on this saturated earth primed the area for dramatic flash floods. Rainfall east of Interstate 35 in the Southern Plains is expected through Memorial Day, ABC News reports.