Firefighters helping a 17-year-old girl escape swift floodwaters were forced to cling to treetops and await rescue themselves after 10 inches of rain deluged parts of the Oklahoma City area Monday.
The boat carrying the rescuers sank just as it reached the teen along a North Canadian River tributary that had toppled its banks. A second boat was able to safely recover the girl, the firefighters and the boat owner who lent his craft to the effort, which included more than 50 rescues of residents and stranded motorists.
No fatalities or major injuries were reported. The Oklahoma State Department of Health received 136 reports of mainly cuts, scrapes and exposure to flood water, but none required hospitalization.
When the rescuers' boat sank, they put a flotation vest on the teen and joined her in the tree, Cpl. Kyle Templeton said. The girl had waded into the fast-moving water to help a stranded motorist, who was able to get out of her vehicle safely, Templeton said.
"She was nervous, of course, but she was calm. For 17 years old, she was really calm," Templeton said. "I just stood there and hugged the tree. We were all just hanging out there together."
Several interstates shut down
Slow-moving thunderstorms developed just south of the Oklahoma City area early Monday and dropped between 6 and 10 inches over most of the city by 11 a.m., inundating neighborhoods and stranding morning commuters. Several interstates were shut down, but reopened Monday afternoon.
About 6,700 homes and businesses lost power, according to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission.
Waters had largely receded by Monday afternoon, but flash flood warnings remained in effect for several counties in southern and southwestern Oklahoma, and forecasters said more thunderstorms were likely.
"It certainly will aggravate the situation," said Daryl Williams, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Norman. "At this point, anything that falls in those areas will just run off and won't soak into the ground."
Dozens of motorists had to be rescued from stalled vehicles in the northern Oklahoma City suburb of Edmond, where residents also were displaced. A temporary shelter was set up at a local elementary school, said police spokeswoman Glynda Chu.
"We had one officer who came in and rescued three carloads of people with families, including children and their pets," Chu said.
Aerial footage showed one northside Oklahoma City neighborhood where water tinged brick red from nearby Chisholm Creek sat hip-deep in some places and reached the tops of garages in others. Crews ferried families from their homes on small boats and jet skis. At least one person floated his way around on an innertube and other residents gathered in a garage as water worked its way up the driveway.
'This is incredible'
Fire crews went door-to-door in the northwest neighborhood of Ski Island, asking residents whose homes back up to Spring Creek to voluntarily evacuate while a nearby dam was evaluated.
Nearby, a group of bystanders watched Silver Lake overflow a road and dam complex. Two boats were upended against a guardrail at the dam, lodged there by the force of the debris-filled water.
"I've never seen it like this," said resident Jan Tipton. "This is incredible."
Norman Cobb shook his head as he surveyed his flooded garage in the Silver Lake neighborhood.
"This is the most flooding that I've had since I've lived here," said Cobb, who moved into the house in 1987.
The main roadway into Will Rogers World Airport was shut down for more than an hour early Monday, and airport officials said several flight delays were reported throughout the day because of the weather.
"Planes are coming and going, but they're playing a bit of catch up," said airport spokeswoman Karen Carney.
With Gov. Brad Henry out of state, Lt. Gov. Jari Askins on Monday declared a state of emergency for 59 Oklahoma counties affected by the storms.