As heavy rain descended upon the area once again, residents and business owners from south Tulsa and Jenks turned out in droves Wednesday to pick up more sandbags.
All morning and early afternoon, a steady line of pickup and flatbed trucks worked their way through the line at the city of Tulsa’s free distribution point at Oral Roberts University.
“My sister’s insurance agency is in the shopping center right next to Louie’s (Grill and Bar in Jenks), and after the rain this morning, the water started creeping up even higher,” said Joey Neely, wearing his Farmer’s Insurance polo shirt and watching city workers make quick work of loading up his truck with sandbags.
Kevin Rule showed up for sandbags for his house in south Tulsa.
“I’ve got a creek that runs along the back of my property. It went up, then down, and now, it’s back up because of this rain,” he said, shaking his head.
In between the morning’s first two rounds of heavy rain and rumbling thunder, a caravan of cars and commercial vans with Texas license plates pulled into the parking lot carrying volunteers.
It was a crew of about 20 workers from a Houston property restoration company and their friends and family, who all donned orange vests with “Cotton Team” printed across the back.
They all picked up shovels and bags and pallets and started helping city workers.
“Two years ago, we just went through Harvey. The same way we received help from Oklahomans during Harvey, we wanted to come and help,” explained Josh Rios, a supervisor at Cotton Holdings. “It’s supposed to rain for two or three more days, so we’ll probably stay at least a couple days and see how that goes.”
John Rothrock has been keeping his south Tulsa neighbors abreast of the situation with Facebook Live videos from the scene.
A large pool of water 2- to 3-feet deep has formed on a street corner, rising up over sidewalks and grass but so far staying shy of flower beds.
“We lovingly have nicknamed it Lake Oswego after the street,” Rothrock said.
He visited the new water feature during a period of intense rain Wednesday afternoon. “Lake Oswego” swelled outward another foot and a half, but returned to its previous level several minutes after the precipitation lessened.
Uncertainty in the weather Tuesday prompted some neighbors near 121st and South Yale Avenue to return and bolster sandbag fortifications, Rothrock said.
He believed there may have been a 50-50 chance of water reaching homes depending on how the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reacted to forecasts and what severity of storms actually materialized. Six residences had power cut off to them Tuesday as water threatened to overtake a transformer, he said.
Generally, he said, folks have been cautiously optimistic. His confidence strengthened as Wednesday wore on that the insides of houses would remain dry, particularly with news that the Corps planned to reduce dam outflows relatively soon.
“(The mood) just kind of varies, from absolute mental exhaustion and panic to confidence the water won’t be in the houses,” Rothrock said.
Tammy Johnson returned to her home at East Stadium Road and South B Avenue with friend Julie Abel and grimaced at the roar of rainfall pounding on her metal carport. Water was rising around her home and it was time for the café owner to empty the contents of three freezers in her garage and take things to Abel’s house.
Residents across Bixby watched the rain closely Wednesday as the city of Bixby issued a warning that rain and surface flooding could lead to more road closures and the possibility of mandatory evacuations because Arkansas River flooding already had drainage systems filled. Firefighters drove around town to check levels hourly on orange stakes with measurements on them, driven into the ground in key lowland spots.
Stadium and B, near downtown, were streets expected to close.
“I’ve got a few more feet before it gets up to the house,” said Johnson, whose Stepping Stone Café down the street had plenty of diners inside and plenty of sandbags stationed at the door.
“The drainage system improvements have done their job, there’s just nowhere for the water to go,” Johnson said in spite of the water rising near her home.
Downtown outside the Southern Cherry Chic Salon and Boutique, Omar Garcia, Josito Soto, Gustavo Suastegui and Thomas Eaminorreal worked feverishly in a downpour to find the source of water backing up into the salon.
It turned out that energetic sandbag and sod roll crews had, days before, blocked a downspout that was now shooting water into the building instead of the street. They all stood laughing in the rain when they found the issue.
Chantal Ramsey walked with rubber knee boots around the entrance to Parkland Garden Homes and deemed things still passable at about 2 p.m., after about 1.5 inches of rain had fallen since morning.
“My husband had been watching but he had to work today. It’s still only up to about here,” she said, hitting her boot closer to her ankle than her knee. “It won’t get up into the apartment but we don’t want to be stranded.”
Many of the residents have already left, she said. “There are still some older residents here and it’s them I’m concerned about mostly,” she said.
City of Bixby spokeswoman Jennifer Rush said the city would be updating its list of road closures and evacuation advisories at 6 p.m. Wednesday but that with the possible exception of B and Stadium downtown no extra road closures were expected.
Many of the residents in low-lying areas such as Bentley Park have evacuated. A few returned to check on their homes west of the flooded park or made a final exit Wednesday, said Bixby Police Sgt. Tim Scrivner, who monitored a roadblock at 148th Street east of Memorial Drive.
Rush said police will monitor some neighborhoods, like Parkwood, and will allow residents to go home as long as they know the risks.
Water levels rose only a matter of inches but it was enough to make the water spread to more areas, Rush said. “It followed the expected patterns,” she said.
“What was at least somewhat unexpected, or unknown, was what would happen with all the infrastructure that has been put in since 1986 and now we’ve seen that it really has made an impact,” she said. “We’ve had a lot of flood mitigation for local rainfall, it’s just where it met the river elevation that there were some problems.”