By JOSH NEWTON
Wednesday morning’s severe weather may have carried a bigger bark than bite, but it nevertheless kept local residents on alert and sent some racing for higher ground.
Cherokee County was twice placed under a tornado warning as a storm system rolled through the area. Many folks kept their sights set on the potential for a twister, and around 60 people sought shelter at the Northeastern State University Center basement.
But rising waters quickly became the issue of the moment for local police and firefighters. Tahlequah-Cherokee County Emergency Management Assistant Director Mike Underwood said areas of the county measured as much as 5-1/2 inches of rain when the system blew through.
Streams in Tahlequah quickly bloated and spilled over their banks, and a couple of drivers found themselves in dangerous situations when their vehicles traveled into rushing water. Police and fire responded; no injuries were reported.
The city’s street department closed a number of areas where water overtook the road, but that didn’t keep some drivers from getting out of their homes and driving toward the problem areas to see what was happening.
“I think the most important warning we could give as a result of what happened Wednesday morning is to heed that saying, ‘Turn around, don’t drown,” said Underwood. “Just stay at home. If you get out when a weather event like this occurs, you are putting yourself at risk, and you put others at risk.”
Flash floods washed out many roads in the county. Muskogee Avenue, near Norris Park, was littered with gravel and large rocks that had washed into the road. Police placed barriers in that area and closed the street until the debris could be removed.
Underwood said Wednesday morning’s flood was the first time in a number of years he has seen waters cover Muskogee Avenue.
Meanwhile, Tahlequah police and firefighters responded to Basin Avenue when the nearby creek rose and threatened the homes of residents. Some people chose to evacuate and seek higher ground until the floods had subsided.
EM Director Gary Dotson said although the county was placed under tornado warnings Wednesday morning, no touchdowns were confirmed after the storm. Strong winds did topple trees in some areas, and left debris scattered in others, but no significant damage had been reported.
A number of county residents lost power amid the storm, but most had been restored by daybreak, according to employees of Lake Region Electric Cooperative and Tahlequah Public Works Authority.
Several Tahlequah residents voiced their concerns Wednesday morning when the city’s storm sirens failed to sound with the tornado warning. Others claimed some of the city’s storm sirens haven’t worked in years.
But Underwood said all of the city’s storm sirens are operational.
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