City and area crews respond to multiple emergencies during flash flooding
Emergency responders across the city of Independence and Montgomery County spent a sleepless night answering multiple calls for assistance as a powerful, lingering storm system pummeled the area with high winds, drenching rain and deadly flash flooding. Two drowning fatalities were reported in the county as a result of rushing floodwaters, and multiple water rescues were conducted from homes and vehicles within the city limits.
David Cowan, Independence’s director of Safety and Code Enforcement, reported the storms dumped 8.3 inches of rain on the city in roughly a five-hour period, causing fast-rising creeks and surface water that led to evacuations in several neighborhoods, including the Whiskey Creek area on the city’s north side. Surface water also made several city streets impassable, including Penn Avenue and Park Boulevard near the underpasses. According to City personnel, the depth of the Verdigris River measured at the city’s east side staging station at U.S. Highway 160 measured 1.59 feet before the storm at 5 p.m. Tuesday. By 5 a.m. today, the depth was measured at 31.46 feet.
“That’s an incredible amount of water to deal with in a short timeframe,” Cowan said, “and the water was moving probably as swiftly as I’ve ever seen it.”
In outlying areas of the county, Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office personnel, as well as rural fire units from Independence, Elk City and Sycamore were simultaneously dispatched to assist with multiple emergency calls, including a brief tornado sighting west of Elk City in the early evening, where straight-line wind gusts had been reported at more than 80 miles per hour. At around 1 a.m. today, Sycamore Rural Fire personnel discovered a pickup truck that had been swept off the roadway by rushing water In the Sweeney Hill area near Elk City Reservoir. Two deceased individuals were found inside the vehicle.
Cowan said a steady, five-hour stream of emergency calls began inundating the city’s 911 center at 9:19 p.m. The first was a fire alarm call at Independence Middle School, followed immediately by a water rescue call at 10th & Sinclair streets. Within the next hour, multiple calls came in for water rescues, reports of stranded vehicles, missing people, flooded basements and sewage backups, along with a structure fire call at 810 N. Penn at 10:09 p.m.
The escalating situation triggered the activation of the city’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) at City Hall, as well as a second 911 seat to handle the high volume of calls, Cowan said. Emergency personnel divided into teams to canvass city neighborhoods at most risk for flooding to warn citizens and assist with evacuations, accompanied by personnel from the city’s utility providers, Atmos Energy and Westar, to further ensure citizens’ safety. Street Department crews worked feverishly to place barricades on flooded streets, and Memorial Hall and City Hall were opened as shelters for those displaced from their homes.
“I can’t say enough about the teamwork of emergency services personnel from across the county,” Cowan said. “Everyone did an exceptional job, and our response system worked very well.”
Cowan noted flash flood waters in most neighborhoods had receded significantly by approximately 1:30 a.m., and residents were able to return to their homes, and no additional requests for shelter or resources have been received.
While waters are receding somewhat throughout the area today, Cowan said, the extended forecast does indicate more rain chances the rest of the week, with heavier precipitation projected on Sunday. He cautioned citizens to take flash flooding seriously and never drive or wade into water covering the roadway, especially at night, as the current and depth can be deceiving on the surface. He also noted drivers should heed barricades and avoid the temptation to “sightsee” and get an up-close view of flooding or damage.
“Our hearts go out to the families of those lost in last night’s storm,” Cowan said. “We hope all citizens will think carefully and use their best judgment in these situations to stay safe and return home to their loved ones.”