Storms trigger flooding in Cherokee Nation

BY CHRISTINA GOOD VOICE
Special Correspondent &
JAMI MURPHY
Former Reporter
05/03/2011 06:54 AM
Video with default Cherokee Phoenix Frame
Main Cherokee Phoenix
All American Floats equipment sits next to a flooded area of the Illinois River on April 27 near Tahlequah, Okla. Heavy rains forced residents and businesses out of riverside structures. CHRISTINA GOOD VOICE/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Main Cherokee Phoenix
April showers flood the Town Branch Creek and close a street in Tahlequah, Okla. JAMI CUSTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Main Cherokee Phoenix
April showers flood the Town Branch Creek and close a street in Tahlequah, Okla. JAMI CUSTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
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On April 26, two men stand on a bridge in Welling, Okla., while watching a tree float swiftly down Barren Fork Creek. CHRISTINA GOOD VOICE/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
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A road leading to the Cherokee Landing near Cookson, Okla., is closed due to flooding on April 25. JAMI CUSTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
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Heavy rains cause Bear Creek to flood Sequoyah City Park in Tahlequah, Okla. Nearly the whole playground was covered at the creek’s highest stage. JAMI CUSTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Main Cherokee Phoenix
On April 26, Barren Fork Creek near Welling, Okla., floods a road leading to a popular fishing and swimming spot. CHRISTINA GOOD VOICE/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
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All American Floats’ canoes sit next to Highway 10 on April 27 and out of an area flooded by the Illinois River overflowing its banks. CHRISTINA GOOD VOICE/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Heavy rains cause Bear Creek to flood Sequoyah City Park in Tahlequah, Okla. Nearly the whole playground was covered at the creek’s highest stage. JAMI CUSTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Cabins located next to the Illinois River sit partially underwater April 27 as the swollen river rises after several days of heavy rain. CHRISTINA GOOD VOICE/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
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A vehicle on April 24 goes through high waters from flooding on Allen Road in Tahlequah, Okla. TESINA JACKSON/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
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The Illinois River floods a section of Highway 10 on April 27 near Tahlequah, Okla. CHRISTINA GOOD VOICE/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Main Cherokee Phoenix
The Illinois River flows a few feet away from the steps of a cabin on April 26 near Tahlequah, Okla. The river flowed over its banks in late April after several days of heavy rains. CHRISTINA GOOD VOICE/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Main Cherokee Phoenix
A car on April 26 goes through water on a flooded road near Cherry Springs Golf Course in Tahlequah, Okla. CHRISTINA GOOD VOICE/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Main Cherokee Phoenix
All American Floats’ canoes and rafts sit next to Highway 10 on April 27 and out of an area flooded by the Illinois River overflowing its banks. CHRISTINA GOOD VOICE/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Heavy April rains have pounded much of the Cherokee Nation’s jurisdictional area, with thunderstorms on April 22 dropping more than 13 inches in some places and causing local rivers, lakes and tributaries to reach or surpass flood stage.

With waterways spilling over their banks, area emergency managers were prepared to assist where needed. Scott Pettus, public information officer for Tahlequah-Cherokee County Emergency Management, said locations to the north and east of Tahlequah in Cherokee County and upwards into Adair County into the Illinois River Watershed into Arkansas received 12-14 inches of rain April 22-27.

“We’re looking at a very major amount of rainfall that has occurred in the area over a short period of time,” he said.

The Illinois River, Lake Tenkiller and area creeks’ water levels rose quickly because of the rains.

The Illinois River began receding April 27 after it crested at its Watts location in Adair County and the Tahlequah gauge, Pettus said.

“We’re seeing levels now at about 17.3 feet at the city of Tahlequah gauge,” he said April 29. “That’s gone down about 3.5 feet over the last four hours… Many of the residents and affected canoe operators should be able to return to their residences and businesses later on this afternoon.”

Pettus said he was also concerned about the water level in Lake Tenkiller.

“We’re at about 80 percent capacity in our storage reservoir at this point,” he said. “The water level is about 5.5 feet below the top of the flood gate at the Tenkiller Dam site. We’re approaching an area that may be somewhat unprecedented.”

The Army Corp of Engineers also monitored the stage in late April and early May.

“They do have the flood gates open releasing the amount of water they can without making a devastating flood downstream from the points south of the Tenkiller Dam,” Pettus said. “We’re very concerned about that. We’re reaching levels that are very critical and it is putting a certain stress on our resources.”

Rain hit the area again on May 2 and chances of more storms later in the week were forecasted.
Roads throughout the area were closed because of flooding, including Highway 10, which runs adjacent to the Illinois River, and Highway 62 to Westville.

“Our county commissioners are doing a very good job of monitoring this particular event,” Pettus said. “They’re building temporary roads in and out of those locations to make sure our residents can get in and out of those areas they need to.”

The water levels of the river and the lake remained a concern for the CCEM and other area entities, but the groups remained vigilant.

“The event we’re seeing now has major implications and very high catastrophic consequences,” Pettus said. “This is the third-largest flood on the Illinois River that we’ve experienced since records have been kept since the early 1900s. Water levels of this magnitude, we’re in uncharted territory so to speak. We’re continuing to monitor this situation.”

CN officials said tribal emergency management responders were prepared to assist the state and county during the flooding and acts as a support role if requested.

“We do have an emergency management team and we all stay in contact with one another. Everybody has roles that they play. And our director of emergency management, she stays in close contact with all our emergency managers that are located within the 14-couty area,” Management Resources Group Leader Angela Drewes said. “Cherokee Nation acts as a support role to the country and state emergency management groups.”

Management Resources Director Tamara Copeland said as of May 2 the department had assisted with providing potable water to several counties, but the state had jumped in quickly and the tribe was not required to do a great deal.

In the meantime, Drewes said her group has made sure to service all equipment necessary to help during flooding.

“Although the CN doesn’t have swift water rescue equipment housed with our emergency management program. We do have chainsaws, generators and equipment of that nature that we have gotten serviced and we are on standby in case we do get any local or state requests to come in and assist,” she said.

Marshal Sharon Wright said the Cherokee Nation Marshal Service is prepared for swift water rescue and would support the state and counties if needed, and in some cases, assist if marshals find a rescue situation.

“We have assisted when we find them on our own, and we’ll contact the locals and see what they want to do and what resources they have and team up with them and use our personnel to help extract people,” she said.

Wright said the CNMS did help with one rescue in Jay during the flooding.

If citizens are in dangerous situations and need assistance, Wright said call 911 first because it will be a faster resource. Drewes said citizens should contact their local emergency manager, but if they don’t know that number they can call the tribe.

“…We will take a name and number from them and we will contact the emergency manager for the district where they live and then we will get back in touch with them and let them know (what services are available),” Drewes said.

To contact the tribe’s emergency management, call 918-453-5000, ext. 5404. For the American Red Cross, call 1-800-494-0275.

christina-goodvoice@cherokee.org • 918-207-3825

jami-custer@cherokee.org • 918-453-5560

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