Evacuations occur in several towns

Robert Smith rsmith@pawhuskajournalcapital.com

Torrential rains during the day Monday and through the night into Tuesday swamped portions of Osage County, leading to evacuations of residents in several communities.

Osage County Emergency Management Director Jerry Roberts said there had been evacuations in Hominy, Barnsdall, Avant and Skiatook. He said approximately 100 people had been evacuated in Hominy and a shelter had been established at a Hominy church.

Roberts helped with the storm response and then got home to Skiatook to find that his own property was threatened by high water.

Osage County officials began their response Monday morning by trying to get county employees home and out of harm’s way.

With storms moving into the area, Osage County commissioners Monday decided to close the courthouse in Pawhuska early and allow county employees to go home and take shelter.

“Are the courts OK with that as far as we know?” District 3 Commissioner Darren McKinney asked District Attorney Mike Fisher. The district attorney replied that arraignments were scheduled for the afternoon and would have to be moved up to the morning.

Fisher left the boardroom to go and check with District Judge John Kane about the possibility of making arrangements to close the courthouse early.

A few minutes later, Fisher reported to the commissioners that he had spoken with the judge about moving the arraignments from the afternoon up to late morning.

McKinney said he would like to get everyone out of the courthouse in view of how the weather was shaping up.

“I’d just as soon everyone be at home,” McKinney said.

Fisher said other activity scheduled for Monday afternoon could be rescheduled.

“What would you like me to tell the judges?” Fisher said.

“As soon as they can, get out of here,” McKinney said. Courthouse department heads and workers were getting ready to leave early.

In a conversation shortly after 4 p.m. Monday with Sheriff Eddie Virden, Virden told the Journal-Capital that he sent all non-essential personnel home about 11 or 11:30 a.m. and then spread out his field deputies to keep watch for potentially severe storms.

By Tuesday morning, Chief Deputy Loren Vaughan was checking on road conditions. Vaughan said about 8 a.m. Tuesday that there had been major flooding in Avant. He said he understood State Highway 11 was closed at Skiatook, at the intersection of SH 20 and SH 11, and also north of Barnsdall. He also understood there had been severe flooding in western Osage County, in the Burbank area.

Pawhuska City Manager Larry Eulert said shortly after 8 a.m. Tuesday that city streets were passable and people were driving them. He said his assistant city manager, Rex Wikel, checked and learned the county courthouse was open at least for the time being.

District 1 Commissioner Randall Jones said he and his crew members had been out overnight, responding to flooding and related damage in an effort to prevent injuries and worse.

“We’ve got every barricade we’ve got out,” Jones said. The rains caused significant standing water on roads in places it hasn’t been seen for 30-40 years, he said.

“It’s been something else,” he said. “We’ve not seen this in a long, long time.”

Jones said a 70-foot cottonwood tree fell across a side street in the McCord community and road workers used a chain saw and a motor grader to reopen the street.

“The runoff is causing us more trouble than the backwater,” Jones said. He cautioned residents to avoid driving into standing water, even if they think they know the depth.

As of 10 a.m. Tuesday, the Oklahoma Department of Transportation said State Highway 11 was open north of Barnsdall, that State Highway 20 was open west of Hominy and that State Highway 99 was open north of Hominy.

ODOT also said State Highway 20 was closed east and west of Skiatook, and that State Highway 123 was closed south of U.S. 60 near Bartlesville in Osage County, as well as between Bartlesville and Dewey in Washington County.