By JOSH NEWTON
It may have descended on Cherokee County during spring break, but Thursday’s rainfall seemed to be welcomed by local residents hoping to see progress in the state’s drought conditions.
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, Cherokee County is in a moderate drought. It’s actually doing better than the rest of Oklahoma, which is suffering from severe, extreme and exceptional drought conditions.
Local emergency preparedness officials realize it may, amidst an ongoing drought, feel a bit out of place to talk about flood preparedness, since it’s been nearly two years since the last major flooding event in this region. But March 18-22 is recognized in the U.S. as Flood Safety Awareness Week to keep citizens aware of what could happen and how to react during a flood event.
Statistics from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association show March was the second-deadliest month for flood-related fatalities in the country last year.
Most people who died in a flood event in 2012 were aged 30-39; of the total number of deaths in the U.S., 71 percent of fatalities were male.
The NOAA says more than half of all people killed in floods are those in vehicles who make the “poor decision to drive down the flooded road” either because another vehicle did so, or because they think the water doesn’t look too deep.
According to the NOAA, it takes only 18 inches of water to lift a car or SUV – and once it floats, the water can easily push the car sideways. Most vehicles, the association says, will tend to roll, trapping people inside and washing them downstream.
“We always say don’t drive through it,” said Tahlequah-Cherokee County Emergency Management Director Gary Dotson. “Even though you may know the road, it could still be deep and washed out. And if we have barricades up on a road, there’s a reason for it; don’t drive around them.”
Dotson said it’s common for Good Samaritans to want to help those who might become stranded in a flood, but if possible, it’s best to call 911.
“We don’t want others to add to the problem,” said Dotson. “We have people trained to get people out of swift-water emergencies. Just keep an eye on the person who is stranded or trapped and try to keep a visual mark on where they are. That information will be helpful to those who respond to the scene to rescue the victim.”
Dotson said those who live in areas known for flooding, especially near bodies of water such as the Illinois River, should always be prepared to evacuate.
He said Emergency Management officials keep a plan in place with public schools, which may have to alter bus routes during a flood. Dotson said parents should check with local schools during a flood to see what changes might be made.
Also, Dotson suggests being prepared to move animals, if necessary.
“Always be sure to move them to higher ground if you have forecasts for flooding coming in,” said Dotson. “The key is to always monitor the weather and be prepared to take action.”