Thunderstorms dropped about 10 inches of rain on parts of Oklahoma City early Monday, flooding neighborhoods, closing interstates, stranding motorists and leaving some residents clinging to trees and awaiting rescue.
The storms — which forecasters said followed each other like a series of train cars moving over the same area — also led authorities to declare a state of emergency in 59 of Oklahoma's 77 counties.
Officials reported more than 50 rescues of residents and stranded motorists in the Oklahoma City area. The state Health Department reported nearly 140 injuries, but none that required hospitalization. No deaths were reported.
Out-of-towner's rude welcome
Jarvis Ross, 31, of Chicago, was riding in a car driven by Jeremy King, 20, of Oklahoma City east on NW 36 about 6:30 a.m. when they hit high water under the Broadway Extension bridge.
"The water didn't look deep at first, but as we got closer the car submerged all the way under," Ross said. "The current just kind of took us away."
When the water was no longer above the doors, the two waded out to firmer ground.
"The quickest thing I could think about was getting out of the car."
Ross, of Chicago, said Oklahoma's recent weather events are a lot different than he is used to experiencing.
"I'm from Illinois and I had never seen a hailstorm or anything like this before," Ross said.
Seven people were rescued from flood waters near the intersection of Sooner and Hefner roads, where the Deep Fork River jumped its banks.
Cars were swamped near the normally busy intersection of Pennsylvania and Memorial. Motorists and workers in the area helped people stranded in their vehicles.
Water flooded a neighborhood near NW 164 and N Western. Oklahoma City firefighters used a rescue boat to get to a man trapped in a truck in that area, said fire Deputy Chief Marc Woodard.
State of emergency
At the request of Gov. Brad Henry, who is out of state, Lt. Gov. Jari Askins approved the paperwork declaring the emergency for 59 counties affected by heavy rain.
The executive order is the first step toward seeking federal aid should it be necessary.
So far this year, Oklahoma has had two weather-related federal disaster declarations, said Michelann Ooten, spokeswoman fro the state Department of Emergency Management.
A federal disaster declaration was issued for the ice storm in late January and then in May for tornadoes. In 2007, nine federal disasters declarations were issued for weather related damage, Ooten said.
Rescue crews were busy throughout the Oklahoma City area on Monday.
Firefighters in the Deer Creek area of northwest Oklahoma County reported that near NW 192 and Western Avenue water pushed a sport utility vehicle against a bridge embankment. A man climbed out of the automobile, but was swept off the roof. Rescue workers found him clinging to a tree, said Assistant Chief Eric Harlow with the Deer Creek Fire Protection District.
In Edmond, three people trapped in a vehicle by rushing flood waters were rescued Monday morning near Santa Fe High School.
"We have had dozens and dozens of water rescues today," said Glynda Chu, Edmond police spokeswoman. "Most of them were from vehicles stranded in the high water. We had several entire families including the family dogs."
"Some of our officers have been here more than 25 years and this is the worst flooding incident they can remember."
Arcadia Lake was closed because the water keeps rising, threatening to run over the spillway.
Arcadia Lake is 8.3 feet above normal lake level, said W. Ross Adkins, U.S. Army Corp of Engineers spokesman for the Tulsa District.
"There is a lot of water coming into that lake," Adkins said.
For the first time since the lake was operational in 1986, Adkins said water could run over the spillway.
Edmond and Spring Creek parks are now closed. No new campers are being allowed in, Chu said. Campers at Scissortail and Central State Park have been moved to higher ground.
About half of the 136 calls the Emergency Medical Services Authority paramedics responded to by 2 p.m. were weather related, authority spokeswoman Lara O'Leary said. No deaths were reported.
Eighteen car crashes around the metro resulted in six patients being taken to the hospital. Four people were taken to local hospitals after being stranded in their cars and seven people who fell were taken for treatment, O'Leary reported.
EMSA medics were involved in 5 water rescues and took one of those people to a local hospital.
In all, the state Health Department reported 136 people suffered injuries, but none required long-term hospitalization.
Rising and rushing water closed roads throughout the Oklahoma City area as commuters battled the rain during the Monday morning rush hour.
The Oklahoma Highway Patrol reported about 180 calls related to flooding. Troopers worked 28 crashes, six involving injury.
"I have never been this scared," Oklahoma City spokeswoman Kristy Yager said about her commute to work in the morning. "This is way worse than driving in the ice. The water is so deep. The visibility is so low."
Although the worst flooding was on city streets, highways were not immune. For several hours Monday afternoon Interstate 35 at Covell and Coffee Creek roads in Edmond was closed, as was Interstate 235 near N 50 in Oklahoma City. Other on and offramps to I-35 and Interstate 40 were also closed during the day.
Several roads throughout the metro area were closed at one point on Monday as creeks spilled over banks and low areas flooded. In Edmond, the northbound lane of Santa Fe Road at Coffee Creek Road was closed because the road has washed away, Chu said.
The main roadway into Will Rogers World Airport was shut down for more than an hour early Monday, and airport officials said several flight delays were reported throughout the day.
As rains pounded the area, Oklahoma City Mick Cornett hosted the U.S. Conference of Mayors, being held downtown at the Cox Convention Center. The event brought in hundreds of mayors from across the country.
Cornett said most of the mayors used the Underground to get to the convention center and didn't even realize there were flooding problems nearby.
Waukegan, Ill., Mayor Bob Sabonjian said he heard about the massive amounts of rainfall and was impressed the city's stormwater drainage was as effective as it was.
"I'm absolutely stunned that it rained 10 inches in six hours and you're not flooding with five feet of water everywhere," Sabonjian said. "I thought the downstairs of this convention center would be filled with water by now."
Cornett said the flooding could have been worse if not for improvements included in the city's last three bond issues and money spend on public safety.
Watching for water quality
Derek Johnson, section head of storm water quality management for Oklahoma City, said the flush of water from large amounts of rainfall can elevate bacteria level, metals, sediments and other contaminants in nearby water bodies. Unlike sewer waste water that is treated, storm water empties into drains and then to rivers and lakes.
Oklahoma City utilities spokeswoman Debbie Ragan said the city's drinking water quality won't be affected by the flooding. There have been sewer overflows, but the contamination is small compared to the large amount of rainwater.
Swimming in lakes and creeks after flooding and large rainstorms should be avoided, she said.
At one point, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission reported about 6,700 power outages related to the storm on Monday afternoon. By Monday evening power had been restored to most of those homes and businesses.
Counties included in Monday's state declaration are: Alfalfa, Beaver, Beckham, Blaine, Caddo, Canadian, Carter, Cherokee, Cleveland, Comanche, Cotton, Craig, Creek, Custer, Delaware, Dewey, Garfield, Garvin, Grady, Grant, Greer, Harmon, Hughes, Jackson, Jefferson, Kay, Kingfisher, Kiowa, Lincoln, Logan, Major, McClain, McIntosh, Mayes, Murray, Muskogee, Noble, Nowata, Oklahoma, Okfuskee, Okmulgee, Osage, Ottawa, Pawnee, Payne, Pontotoc, Pottawatomie, Roger Mills, Rogers, Seminole, Stephens, Texas, Tillman, Tulsa, Wagoner, Washington, Washita, Woods and Woodward.
The following contributed to this report: Robert Medley, Diana Baldwin, Megan Rolland, Randy Ellis, Bryan Painter, Vallery Brown, Julie Bisbee, Bryan Dean and The Associated Press.