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.”