WEBBERS FALLS — Marlene and Andy Paul are celebrating their fourth anniversary in similar fashion to their wedding day — watching flood waters creep ever closer to their home in Webbers Falls.
Electricity and gas were shut off Wednesday in the town of 600 people nestled next to the Arkansas River about 30 minutes southeast of Muskogee. Some residents were engaged in final evacuation efforts as police cordoned off roadways. Others simply sat and watched from their property.
One man had two fishing lines cast, with the poles affixed to a golf cart in a backyard. A woman elsewhere waded out into knee-deep water to toss out a net for bait fish.
A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers official said the Muskogee area was seeing major flooding.
“There are large releases out of not only Keystone but also out of Fort Gibson dam and you also have large flows coming out of the Verdigris River,” Dave Williams, chief of hydrology and hydraulic engineering section for the Tulsa District Corps, told a news conference Wednesday evening in Tulsa.
The gauge measuring the Arkansas River near Muskogee was at 39 feet at 7 p.m. Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service. Flood stage there is 28 feet.
A Muskogee County Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday night prompted a request to completely evacuate Webbers Falls, according to town officials in a social media post. The danger was deemed life-threatening from flooding that began to turn worse than expected.
Not all who were facing displacement along the Arkansas River were keen to leave until the last moments.
“As it continues to rise I’ll keep watching it,” Andy Paul said. “As water comes up, I’ll move up the road a ways. I’ll stay within sight of this house as long as I can.”
The Pauls transferred what they could into their travel trailer, most importantly photographs. But a new refrigerator, bedroom set and remodeled bathroom soon were to become casualties.
A playground between the Paul household and river already was underwater. The water had risen to maybe 3 feet below their 9-foot tall deck.
“I just have to see what God has planned for me, I guess,” Marlene Paul said. “I don’t know.”
About 25 miles northwest of Webbers Falls, residents of the Riverside Manufactured Home Community in Muskogee were in a similar situation.
Shane Hatton hopped across wooden pallets lining his walkway as he carried belongings to his pickup truck. Water from the Arkansas River was inching up and around the skirt of his mobile home.
Nearby, Kristen Tanner walked her basset hound and Jack Russell terrier mix named “Stormy.” Her parents already had packed and evacuated to a relative’s place that didn’t have room for Tanner and Stormy, so those two were staying with a neighbor.
That neighbor, Samantha Karnes, was trying to keep her 3-year-old calm amid the stress. They were packed and ready to leave — but not too soon.
“When it gets to the point where we’re kinda floating, then we’ll leave,” Karnes said.