Flooding could worsen; Fort Gibson casino suffers damage

BY D. SEAN ROWLEY
Senior Reporter
05/28/2019 09:00 AM
FORT GIBSON – Residents and businesses across Oklahoma are still waiting for the effects of several days of storms, tornados and flooding to subside.

The Cherokee Nation is not unaffected by the weather, though Cherokee Nation Businesses CEO Shawn Slaton said the Nation’s misfortunes don’t compare to what many residents around the state are enduring.

“The things we are dealing with at our properties pale in comparison to what many are experiencing throughout the Cherokee Nation,” Slaton said. “Our hearts go out to those living throughout the 14 counties, and the state, as they deal with the recent devastating storms and flood waters.”

Among CNB sites, the Cherokee Casino Fort Gibson is the most adversely affected. Speaking on May 24, Slaton did not offer a cost-of-damage estimate, stating that assessments were not yet possible and flooding may worsen.

“Flood water is completely surrounding Cherokee Casino Fort Gibson,” Slaton said. “Right now, the maintenance barn and the smoke shop are the only structures to experience flooding. We anticipate the water level to continue rising, and if that holds true, it will ultimately reach the casino.”

In anticipation of rising water levels, the CN is working to minimize further damage.

“Although we have flood insurance, Tuesday night our team worked to minimize the damage to the property,” Slaton said. “All equipment that could be reasonably removed was taken to an offsite location. Once the water recedes, we will evaluate and work to restore the property to operation. All employees of Cherokee Casino Fort Gibson are being allocated to other sites and will not be adversely affected by the temporary closure of the facility.”

Another CNB site affected by the inclement weather is Cherokee Casino Will Rogers Downs, where water damage to the racing track forced cancellation of the last three days of the venue’s thoroughbred racing season.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers sounded the alarm earlier in the week that the deluge of rainfall within the Arkansas River watershed would require a release of water from dams that would result in flooding downstream. In response, CNB ordered Cherokee Casino Fort Gibson on May 21 to temporarily close.

Also, on Friday, May 24, the CN announced the Three Rivers Health Center in Muskogee would be closed on Tuesday, May 28 due to flooding from the nearby Arkansas River. The clinic was scheduled to be close May 27 for Memorial Day.

TRHC is not expected to have water, sewer or electricity during the next few days and tribal officials want to ensure patient and employee safety. Patients with appointments for May 28 are being called and rerouted to the nearest CN health center.

Employees from TRHC are also going to be working at other nearby health centers on May 28 such as Redbird Smith Health Center in Sallisaw. CN Health Services is monitoring the situation and will assess on May 28 whether Three Rivers will reopen on May 29.

If patients have any questions they can call: Redbird Smith Health Center in Sallisaw at 918-774-1400 or W.W. Hastings Hospital in Tahlequah at 918-458-3100.

The weekend of May 18 and 19, Kaw Lake near Ponca City was more than 30 feet above normal and Keystone Lake, west of Tulsa, was more about 24 feet above normal. On the evening of May 24, with dam gates opened, the lake levels were 37 and 33 feet above normal, respectively.

Precipitation within the Arkansas River watershed is perhaps the most prodigious since 1986, when flooding occurred downstream under similar circumstances. The USACE was forced to allow a large release through Keystone Dam.

On May 24 in the Muskogee-Fort Gibson area, many residents, particularly around Fort Gibson, Braggs, and Okay, were without power. OG&E was setting up temporary electric poles, while the Muskogee OG&E power plant was surrounded by water, but undamaged. Highway 62 between Muskogee and Fort Gibson, along which Cherokee Casino Fort Gibson is sited, was shut down.

Capt. Danny Tanner of the Cherokee Nation Marshal Service told a Tulsa TV station that marshals were helping with evacuations, and said the floods were expected to be worse than in 1986.
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