Gary and Connie Cook returned to their trailer home in Cherry Hill Mobile Home Park at 48th Street and South Elwood Avenue first thing Friday, only to find their wait for power restoration wasn’t over.
“Someone at the city told me you have to call PSO and you have to say you’re home and there’s no water in your home,” said Gary.
Connie added: “It has been quite a week and a half.”
The city of Tulsa began allowing residents to return to their homes Friday morning but cautioned that the process would take time.
“It will be done as each neighborhood has been identified as being safe,” said Mayor G.T. Bynum.
Returning residents will be asked by law enforcement to provide identification.
Bynum encouraged people to follow social media and local news outlets for the latest updates on neighborhood re-openings. The information is also available on the city’s website, cityoftulsa.org.
The Cooks fled their home of 9½ years amid a round of severe storms on May 21.
“The office here got hit a few years ago with a bunch of us inside taking shelter,” Connie said. Their first stop was a hotel room at River Spirit Casino Resort.
“The next day they closed because of flooding there, so they put us up in a Marriott,” Connie said.
They spent the next two nights in an east Tulsa hotel, but the hotel costs were adding up too quickly. They finally accepted a relative’s offer of help.
“We went to my sister-in-law’s one bedroom,” Connie said. “Don’t get me wrong, hotels are expensive. We were grateful she asked, but we’re glad to be home.”
“Now, we’re just waiting to get some AC!” said Gary, tugging the chain on his front porch ceiling fan only to find it still lifeless.
One street south, Lana Rickman had a U-haul truck full of her nicest furniture and clothing, plus important photos ready to be unloaded.
“We got a truck because we’ve got new bedroom furniture we still owe on,” she said, laughing.
She and her husband had a generator running while they waited on PSO crews to arrive, but they weren’t ready to unload their furniture just yet.
“We just put in new carpeting and flooring and the carpet warranty requires the carpet to be cleaned once a year. I figured while we’ve got so much furniture out, we might as well have the carpet cleaners come,” Rickman said. “We’ve lived here 22 years, and nothing like this has ever happened. I hope it’s another 22 years, because I’ll be retired by then and I’d have more time to deal with this.”
Residents of the Garden City neighborhood in the shadows of the oil refineries on the west side of the river weren’t without power for nearly as long, but pockets of outages remained there Friday morning as well.
Sam Poteet said his part of the neighborhood, which is closest to the river between West 36th Street to the north and West 37th Place to the south, lost power just after 8 p.m. Wednesday.
His house and most others there were powered back up about 10 a.m. Friday.
But Poteet was posted out on Galveston Street to help a neighbor, Michael Foster, whose half of that street had inexplicably not had its power turned back on.
Moments later, a PSO van with two workers turned onto the street. When Poteet waved for them to stop, the passenger started to roll down his window, but the van’s driver sped up and passed without stopping.
“Who do they think they work for?” Poteet shouted as the van drove away.
Poteet and Foster said they were frustrated that the only flooding in the lowest lying parts of the area was caused by water from storm drains — because a levee was added as protection from the river level after a major flood hit Tulsa in 1986.
He said a nearby city of Tulsa property and a trucking company had added their own drainage inside the levee without safety valves that could be shut off to prevent the flooding that occurred in Garden City this week.
“I don’t fault them for needing the drainage, but they needed to put valves on their ends,” Foster said. “There was a failure on a lot of people’s parts.”
In west Tulsa, some residents who fled as water seeped beneath the levee and into streets began returning Friday despite swarming mosquitoes and the overwhelming stench of the standing water.
Connie and Curtis Sollars’ home near West 12th Street and South 51st West Avenue stayed dry, but ankle-deep water remained throughout their yard and across most of the street. Curtis, a disabled veteran, sent Connie and their dog, Molly, out of harm’s way Monday along with most of the neighbors as concern for the levee grew with rising water.
“The water just kept coming up and coming up,” Connie said. “Then when the helicopters were coming and dumping sandbags, I was like, ‘uh oh.’
“I’m surprised it held.”
Curtis said he stayed to keep watch over the group of abandoned houses and called in as many sightseers who wandered in the area as he did potential looters. Their homes haven’t had power restored, both because of ongoing flooding and a tree that brought down power lines down the street.
With “nowhere to go and nothing to lose,” Curtis said he posted up in the street to ward off intruders, his Suzuki 550 motorcycle sitting ready in the event the levee broke and he had to flee. His backup plan was a boogie board resting against the front porch.
“You live in the river bottom, you can expect water,” Curtis said.