Flood rescues are underway in Oklahoma as millions in US face severe storms

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Central Oklahoma has been hit by heavy rainfall in the overnight hours, resulting in severe flooding. CNN's Ed Lavandera reports.

Posted: May 21, 2019 4:20 PM
Updated: May 21, 2019 4:20 PM

Rescuers pulled people to safety and ferried them through fast-moving floodwaters in middle Oklahoma on Tuesday after severe storms swamped the area -- and more severe weather will threaten a large portion of the central US as the day goes on.

Floodwater closed parts of Interstate 40 in Oklahoma's Canadian County, just west of Oklahoma City, after storms hit late Monday and early Tuesday.

In that county, high water was lapping up against homes in a rural area near the community of El Reno on Tuesday morning, and fire departments' swift water rescue teams were using boats to take residents to drier land.

Also in the area, video from CNN affiliate KFOR showed a woman clinging to a tree as floodwater rushed around her Tuesday morning. After one rescuer reached her and fastened a line to her, two others pulled her to safety.

Video from CNN affiliate KOCO also showed a team of four firefighters pushing a boat containing four people against a current Tuesday morning, up a driveway that had become a stream.

One rescued woman, Tammy Flowers, told CNN that she and some relatives tried to leave their farm with a tractor, but it became stuck. Her son stayed behind, she said, hoping to tend to some cattle.

"It's not good. The water is coming up and it's really deep," she said.

More than 40 water rescues had been performed Monday night into Tuesday morning, Canadian County Emergency Management Director Andrew Skidmore said.

While rain stopped in that area Tuesday morning, severe storms still are expected to rake the central Plains, Missouri, Illinois, Arkansas, and parts of Texas and Louisiana on Tuesday.

Residents urged to seek higher ground

Flash flood emergencies were declared Monday night and Tuesday morning in the Tulsa area, where more than 6 inches of rain have fallen in some locations this week.

The National Weather Service in Tulsa urged people in those areas to move to higher ground, with more rain expected.

"We're seeing reports of flooding and water rescues across (northeast) Oklahoma," state emergency management spokeswoman Keli Cain told CNN Tuesday morning.

That included the community of Hominy, a Tulsa-area community where more than 200 people were evacuated Monday night because of rising water, Cain said.

Roads in Ponca City, in northern Oklahoma, have turned into rivers, with the local government urging drivers to stay away from the water.

The county emergency manager reported flooding in the city had begun to enter buildings, CNN affiliate KTUL reported. Several roads had also been closed off.

Stillwater Public Schools, in northern Oklahoma, announced schools in the district will be closed Tuesday "due to excessive flooding."

At least 21 tornadoes were reported in four states

At least 21 tornadoes were reported in parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri and Arkansas from early Monday to Tuesday morning, the National Weather Service said -- and more are possible Tuesday, especially in parts of Missouri and Arkansas.

In Mangum, near Oklahoma's border with Texas, city officials said a tornado hit a house and ripped the roof off a two-story apartment building, according to KOCO.

The police department asked residents to "not get out and drive around."

"On top of emergency crews trying to fix power lines and other damage from the tornado," the department said, "the roads are now flooding due to the intense rain."

"By trying to check out the weather you are only putting yourself and the crews in further danger."

More flooding coming to Plains and Midwest

Because storms have repeatedly hit the same areas recently, a serious flooding threat has developed in the Plains and the Midwest.

About 17 million people were under flood or flash flood watches early Tuesday, including in Oklahoma City and Tulsa; Wichita, Kansas; and Kansas City and St. Louis, Missouri.

Serious river flooding -- including along the already swollen Mississippi River -- also is expected in the central US as another 2 to 5 inches of rain are expected to fall over the region in the next few days.

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