MUSKOGEE — When people started calling Braggs Mountain an island, as the Arkansas River rose to near-record levels amid catastrophic flooding, most of the city lost power. Muskogee County Commissioner Ken Doke called his “brother” at OG&E.
“I need you to charge the hill with me,” he told Tim Thompson, who he said agreed without even knowing what Doke meant. That’s what family does, and Doke says the Muskogee County community is showing it’s a family right now.
Doke met late Sunday with Braggs residents at the American Legion as people who had stocked up supplies found themselves facing power cuts — and the loss of water and sewer service — after several days of being cut off by floodwater. Many were running generators for basic needs, but the town’s one gas station ran out of fuel.
“They were panicking,” Doke said. “With morale the way it was — crisis mode — I wanted them to see me face to face and hear me say, ‘It’s going to be all right.’”
And he provided the nearly 260 residents of Braggs with good news, along with help from Thompson, a Fort Gibson-area resident and OG&E community affairs manager.
OG&E’s power line that services people up Braggs Mountain was buried by water. Thompson said they learned that some Braggs residents still had power through Lake Region Electric Cooperative, so OG&E connected with that utility’s engineers to find a way to service customers during the outage.
“But we had to get the trucks there, so you had a half-dozen of these big orange trucks that we had to figure out how to get over this impossible seven-mile trek across the mountain to get them on top to go ahead and do the work,” Doke said.
That’s where “the impossible road” comes in, he said. Several days ago, Doke said the Army Corps of Engineers and soldiers from Camp Gruber helped begin a quiet operation to build a road from Cherokee County west to Braggs Mountain.
With a few days’ notice, several agencies, including the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, quietly began construction on that seven-mile relief road, Doke said.
“One of the people at (the Oklahoma Army National Guard training facility at Camp Gruber) said, ‘You’re welcome to have access, but I’m telling you it’s impossible to build a road through there.’ But apparently they don’t know our road crews.”
By Sunday, Doke said, the crews used bulldozers to pull utility trucks over “the impossible road” to get power restored for many residents by 7 p.m.
Some residents farther down the mountain may remain without power, however, which Doke said is the first priority for those remaining in Braggs, a town of about 260. He noted that air evacuations Saturday focused on those with medical needs. While most Braggs residents remain, Blackhawk helicopters lifted out about a dozen individuals to a Fort Gibson shelter.
Construction continued on the relief road overnight and into the morning hours to make it more viable, Doke said, and as a result of those efforts, Sheriff Rob Frazier was able to deliver the first shipment of supplies over the relief road early Monday. “We believe we’ve dodged a major crisis over there,” Doke said.
As for the flow coming down the Arkansas River toward Muskogee, Thompson reminded those at the Braggs meeting that dams make a lot of difference. He said the area’s flood record, 48 feet in Muskogee, was set in 1943, but that was before the McClellan–Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System, with its locks and dams, was in place.
In 1986, the area saw even more rain than the 1943 event, but flooding was nearly 10 feet less due to the dams, Thompson said. He said this event is going to be the new flood of record.
“With a lot of those folks in the Braggs area not able to get out and see things for themselves, and many without power, they needed the scope — that we’ve never seen anything like this in this area before” Thompson said Monday.