Record-busting rainfall and ensuing flooding in Oklahoma led to at least one death, officials confirmed Tuesday, a day after several dramatic rescues of people who took treetops and roofs to escape swift-moving waters.
A man who drove onto a submerged street drowned after being swept away while trying to push his stalled car off the roadway in Lawton, said Comanche County Emergency Management Director Chris Killmer. The body of Miguel Lopez, 50, was found lodged against a bridge over a canal, Lawton Police Chief Ronnie Smith said.
Lopez's death was the only fatality reported during Monday's deluge. The Oklahoma State Department of Health reported 136 injuries, but none requiring hospitalization.
Fire officials in Oklahoma City and the nearby suburb of Edmond launched more than 60 swift-water rescues after thunderstorms dumped as much as 10 inches of rain in some areas in a matter of hours. More rain fell Monday night, and the National Weather Service said the 7.62 inches at Will Rogers International Airport in Oklahoma City topped the previous record of 7.53 inches set on Sept. 22, 1970.
'We were lucky'
"We were lucky to get the people out of the high-water areas," said Oklahoma City Fire Department Battalion Chief Tommy Iago. "The places we couldn't walk them out, we used boats."
One boat carrying rescuers in Oklahoma City sank just as it reached a 17-year-old girl, forcing firefighters to take to treetops and await help themselves.
Raquel Dawson said during network television interviews early Tuesday that she was walking to work, and about to give up and go back home Monday, when she saw a woman trying to get away from her car in floodwaters. Dawson said she helped the woman get to some nearby trees, then decided to try and swim for help.
That's when the current swept her away.
"I didn't think the water was nearly as deep as it was," Dawson said. "I just thought it was maybe knee-deep."
Fire Lt. Joe Smith, one of the rescuers, said it was the first time he'd needed rescuing.
"It didn't feel very good," Smith said. "I like to be in control of the action."
The heaviest rainfall was reported across sections of northern Oklahoma City, forcing the closure of some roads and interstates. Creeks and rivers toppled their banks, and strong currents ripped asphalt from roadways and blew manhole covers from pipes.
'Street was rolling'
Betty Diehl was house-sitting at her daughter's home in Oklahoma City when a river of water came down the road.
"The street was rolling," Diehl said. "I watched it out the window. I said, 'You could take a boat out there.'"
Diehl said her daughter's home, like others in the neighborhood, has suffered through several severe weather events in the last six months — a December blizzard, a May hailstorm and now flooding.
"We've had our share — from ice to hail and now to river," Diehl said.
Fire crews braced for more problems Tuesday, with the forecast calling for more scattered showers.
"The ground is saturated enough," Iago said. "Who knows how much more it can take."