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Arkansas River begins to recede as officials slowly reduce outflow from Keystone Dam

Update (7 a.m. May 31): The Keystone Dam output has been reduced to 200,000 cubic feet per second as of 6 a.m., with an inflow estimate of 182,000 cfs. The inflow has dropped about 13.5% since midnight, according to the Army Corps of Engineers' website.

Click here to read more: All eyes are on the levee system as water flow from Keystone Dam continues to decrease

Update (11 a.m.): As floodwaters recede in evacuated neighborhoods, residents are told that inspections will be made before anyone is allowed back into flooded residences. Law enforcement officers are patrolling affected neighborhoods until residents return.

After authorities deem an area safe, PSO will be notified to restore power. If authorities requested the power disconnection, an inspection may be necessary. For those who requested PSO to disconnect service individually, residents must call PSO to begin the reconnection process. For questions about whether an inspection is necessary for electrical systems and weather heads, call PSO at 888-218-3919. 

Update (10 a.m.): The Arkansas River level at the Tulsa gauge has dropped to 21.5 feet overnight as the release from the Keystone Dam began to fall to 245,000 cubic feet per second Thursday morning.

The decrease has the river out of major flood stage for Tulsa and into the moderate category. Inflow to the lake has fallen to about 225,000 cfs, according to hourly Army Corps of Engineers data.

It didn’t look like it Wednesday, but the weather and the projections for flooding are improving for the Tulsa area.

Hours before heavy rain began to pour on the city Wednesday afternoon, a large contingent of public officials held a news conference to announce that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would be gradually decreasing the outflow of water from Keystone Dam through Monday.

Later in the day — after flash-flood warnings had been issued — the Corps updated its release plans to say the outflow had been decreased from 275,000 cubic feet per second to 265,000 cfs at 4 p.m. Moving forward, the release would be decreased by 10,000 cfs every six hours.

“We do have the authority when we’re in that (surcharge) pool to actually begin the draw-down as long as our inflow is less than our outflow,” said David Williams, civil engineer for the Tulsa District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “So we’re at that point. And in the interest of trying to get the downstream flow rates down as quickly as possible, we decided to go ahead and start that process.”

The lower water release from the dam is expected to bring down the levels in the Arkansas River. Flood stage in Tulsa is 18 feet, and the river crested at 23.41 feet at 3 p.m. Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service. By 7:30 p.m. it was at 23.03 feet. The weather service predicted that it would recede to 21.5 feet by 7 p.m. Thursday.

There’s no more rain in the forecast for Tulsa until Saturday night, according to the National Weather Service.

The weather news began to get better overnight Tuesday, when rain expected to fall in the Keystone Dam watershed never materialized. That eliminated the need to increase the outflow from the dam, which was scheduled to stay at 275,000 cfs into late Thursday.

The heavy rain Wednesday that produced flash flood warnings wasn’t a significant issue at Keystone.

“Most of the rain actually fell just below the watershed,” Williams said. “There was about a half inch of rain that fell right over the reservoir and very close to the reservoir.”

By then, the lake’s level had declined.

“We already had a half-foot of volume available in the surcharge pool and falling,” Williams said. “That additional rainfall (Wednesday) really makes no appreciable difference in the volume, so we continued to draw down.”

Williams said the heavy rain Wednesday will make its way into the Arkansas River, where it will be carried downstream to Muskogee and other eastern Oklahoma communities that also are already dealing with flooding.

“I saw some totals close to 4 inches along the river in southern Wagoner County,” Williams said. “As that runs off, it will contribute. It won’t produce a peak flow on the Arkansas downstream. That’s already occurred. But it will fall in behind and prolong the duration of the increased flows.”

Speaking at a Wednesday morning news conference, Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum said that although the city had caught a break with the weather Tuesday night, now is not the time for area residents to get complacent — especially those living near Tulsa County’s 20-mile levee system.

“It is in the best interests of everybody — for the residents, for your neighbors, for the first responders — to go ahead and proactively relocate ahead of time,” Bynum said.

Tulsa County Commissioner Karen Keith said the levee system continues to do its job but that improvements will have to be made once the crisis is over.

“After this storm and after all of these things have passed, we’re just going to have to dedicate some resources just to shore it up until we get the permanent fix,” she said.

Bynum said he is proud of the calm and resilience with which people living in the Arkansas River corridor have responded to the storms and flooding.

“Everybody has just taken it day by day, handling things as they come and working together to watch out for our neighbors,” the mayor said.

Sen. Jim Inhofe praised the work of local officials, some of whom, he joked, “don’t even like each other.”

“It is just a great thing,” he said.

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Life goes on in Braggs, despite flooding on all roads leading in and out; boats, trains ferry in supplies

BRAGGS — Amid catastrophic flooding and high anxiety, a town cut off by flood water has developed humor and routine.

Once in the town, plush with greenery, the flooding is not obvious. Few of the homes have flooded.

“We’re sitting pretty where we’re at,” Stacie Isbell said. “We just can’t go to Walmart.”

Isbell and others in the town of fewer than 300 people are trapped in Braggs by floodwaters. Oklahoma 10 and other roads in and out of the town flooded last Thursday. The community has few businesses, and those that exist have struggled to restock. One business, a malt shop, has not been open since the floods began.

The National Guard conducted air evacuations, and some people were evacuated by boat, but most of the town’s residents remained.

Residents with boats have taken to ferrying people and supplies in and out of the town.

“I have a brother on the other side (of the floodwater),” Isbell said. “I’ll be going for groceries soon. I’m buying for three different households.”

Besides the boats, supplies are being ferried in by rail. Emergency personnel found that the railroad track leading through Braggs was above water, said Ken Doke, a Muskogee County commissioner.

Two utility vehicles — an ODOT truck and a Union Pacific truck — on train wheels ride nearly on top of the flood waters into the town, hauling supplies during an average of two trips daily. The two trucks carry food, toiletries and other necessities.

“They’ve been stranded because Highway 10’s flooded on both sides, so we’ve had a major effort to just keep them in a supply line until their water comes down,” Doke said.

Isbell said she knows others have it worse than Braggs. Many in the town have bright dispositions, despite the surrounding disaster. Life for some has come to a halt. Very few, ferried in and out, are able to reach their jobs.

Kim Salsman, a town resident, said T-shirts saying “I survived Braggs Island” will be made.

“It could be worse,” Salsman said. “It’s devastating, but you know what? We’re lucky here. We have food, water and electricity.”

There was a stint, about three days, when most of the town was without electricity.

Unprecedented rainfall has inundated northeastern Oklahoma. And Muskogee County, where Braggs is located, is where three rivers — the Arkansas, Neosho and Verdigris — meet.

Rainfall in north-central Oklahoma is 337% over normal in the past 30 days, making the past monthlong period the wettest ever, according to the Oklahoma Climatological Survey. In northeastern Oklahoma, it’s up 335%. More than 18 inches of rain has fallen in the past 30 days.

Firefighters check on the town’s residents daily.

Tim Smith, chief of the Braggs Volunteer Fire Department, said he is hopeful that floodwaters will recede by mid next week.

Water over the highway exceeded 5 feet near Greenleaf State Park and about 8 feet near Maynard Bayou.

“When it all started, it was a bit chaotic,” Smith said. “Now that it’s been a few days, it’s routine.”

Muskogee County has been inundated with flooding. Doke said there is flooding in the Haskell area and along the northern edge of Muskogee. The Port of Muskogee is under water; the Spaniard Creek area is flooded; and Webbers Falls is completely underwater, he noted.

Factories in Muskogee’s industrial district have either taken on water or have been cut off by flood water, Doke said.

“It’s going to affect jobs all up and down the Three Rivers area,” he said.

Doke said emergency management personnel recently were able to take aerial photographs of Fort Gibson, which is nearly encircled by the Arkansas and Neosho rivers and was hit hard by rising waters.

“They’re still trying to go through those images to do counts on rooftops, at least the ones with water low enough to see the roof tops,” he said.

In Fort Gibson, a group of grassroots volunteers have started the Fort Gibson Resource Center, housed at the high school. At the center, volunteers load the rail cars that deliver supplies to Braggs residents.

They also take donations and send them to Okay. Louann Fore, a volunteer at the Resource Center, said they can get a load of supplies to Braggs in about 20 minutes. People adversely affected by the flood have come to the center to keep their kitchens stocked. Those whose homes have flooded will have access to various tools and cleaning implements to jump-start their recovery.

“We are making connections now with people we would have never crossed paths with,” Fore said. “We’re loving them, and we’re serving them.”

Gov. Kevin Stitt visited the Fort Gibson Resource Center on Wednesday. He played basketball with his lieutenant governor, Matt Pinnell, took photographs with students and met with volunteers.

Stitt said a group of educators invited him there to try to get the students’ minds off the flood.

“It was important to be down here. When we heard about them opening a free basketball camp for the community and young people, we thought it was pretty great. … We just wanted to come down and offer our support and encouragement.”

Why are some Tulsans ignoring evacuation notices? We asked, and here's what they said.

It was raining hard in Garden City on Wednesday afternoon. Raining again, that is, in the waters rising around the handful of residents who have chosen to stay in the west Tulsa neighborhood despite the city’s call to evacuate.

Why stay? Why risk everything?

The answer is as simple and as complicated as human nature itself.

“It is just the fact of, you know, you work hard for your stuff,” said Justin Fout. “You just don’t want people taking off with it.”

Fout has lived in his small home south of the refineries on the west bank of the Arkansas River for four years. He said police and city workers have handled the voluntary evacuation well, encouraging neighborhood residents as early as last week to get out.

And he appreciates the potential risk residents — especially older ones — present to themselves and others when they don’t heed that warning.

“It puts a shock on the emergency crews; they don’t want to have to come in and save you,” he said. “But they don’t have to worry about saving me; if it gets bad, I’ll just roll.”

A nearby neighbor, Sam Poteet, 76, said he’s lived in his trailer home more than 16 years. Everyone looks out for everyone else, he said, and that’s why he has no plans to leave. Even now that the power has been turned off.

Poteet spoke about his neighbors, pointing to the homes around him. “They are not here, and they are in and out, and he just had a massive heart attack,” he said.

He said he doesn’t expect the water level around him to rise, and with four rottweilers, he’s not concerned about his safety. So he’s staying.

“We keep an eye on each other,” he said.

Sarah Buckingham returned from a trip to Illinois on Tuesday night to find Cherry Hill Park closed. She was one of a handful of residents of the trailer park, at 48th Street and Elwood Avenue, not to leave.

“I got home to all this, and of course all my meat and everything had rotted in the fridge,” she said. “So I just made my last trip to the store to get baking soda and all that stuff.”

For those who would say she’s crazy not to leave, she has a simple rebuttal.

“I don’t think it is dangerous right now,” Buckingham said as she stood looking down from a ramp in front of her trailer door. “I’ve got 2½ feet here between me and the ground, so I am in pretty good shape, I think.”

City Councilor Jeannie Cue toured the Garden City neighborhood Wednesday. She praised police and other public-safety officials who have worked around the clock for days to keep the area safe.

And although she has encouraged her constituents to heed the city’s evacuation notices, she understands that, human nature being what it is, not everyone is going to comply.

“Because they want to protect their property,” she said.

Cue thinks she might have a way to help those people feel better about leaving their homes.

“I think they would feel more comfortable if they (the shelters) were closer, and I think that is certainly something we can work out with the city and with our emergency people,” she said.

Then again, things might just get so bad, the hangers-on will change their minds. Fout acknowledged as much Wednesday, saying he hasn’t ruled out leaving.

“It’s kind of hard to stay anywhere with no power,” he said. “It’s miserable.”