CLAREMORE, Okla. — For close to 50 years, Dot’s Cafe has been a small but inviting staple of downtown Claremore. The familiar faces and warm food served by the Knight family have warmed many hearts.
The restaurant is still open, but Melinda Knight, her children and grandchildren have all been displaced.
On the far west end of Blue Starr Drive, the property of Melinda Knight, her daughter Brandi Gatzemeyer and her brother Larry Washom are submerged beneath the crest of the Verdigris River.
“In ’86 it didn’t get this bad,” Knight said.
Knight and Gatzemeyer’s homes are filled with water up to the roof. Washom lost all but seven cows from his herd. And a family owned rent house is destroyed.
Knight and her two granddaughters, ages 13 and 19, are staying in a fifth wheel at the racino with no timeline about when they can return home.
“We expect it to be a total loss,” Knight said. “It’ll be at least two weeks to get all the water out. After that it will be very hard to get cleaned up.”
Knight knows because, to a lesser degree, she’s been through this before.
During the flooding in 1986, they were also forced to evacuate as water filled their home about halfway.
The big difference is that this time they didn’t get any advanced notice.
“We never got a phone call,” Knight said.
Gatzmeyer called the Corps of Engineers two days before they started releasing large amounts of water from Oologah Lake to see if they should take flood precautions.
She was told they were under a voluntary evacuation, but having been around during the flooding in 1986, she took it as mandatory and started packing up the house as best she could.
With a couple loads of her family’s most important belongings moved to higher ground, Gatzmeyer started helping her mother move out around 10 a.m. Saturday
“By 2 p.m., we were struggling through the water to get one load out,” Knight said. “We saved a lot of pictures and some stuff out of the china cabinet.”
Nearly 40 years worth of furniture, kitchen supplies, decorations and personal belongings are lost beneath the river.
“I lost jewelry and clothes and no telling what else,” Knight said. “I try not to think about it because I know I just can’t get it back.”
“I guess if you want to clean house, that’s one way to do it,” she said, making the most of a bad situation.
Gatzmeyer’s home is closer to the river bank than her mothers. Gatzmeyer ad her husband had previously talked about getting flood insurance, but “for $30,000 a year its cheaper to just to rebuild.”
Knight lost her husband Bobby less than one year ago.
If he’d been there, she wondered aloud, maybe they would have gotten out sooner or saved more of their home.
Sitting at a booth in the diner after hours and scrolling through Gatzemeyer’s pictures of the damage, Knight said, “It’s hard to know what my plan is.”
“The house is completely destroyed. It takes money and time to repair it,” she said.
A lot of important decisions are hanging in the air. They wont be made until the water recedes and the family can get a clearer idea of the problems they face.
“The land has been in the family for 50 years,” Knight said. “We’d hate to let it go, but this could happen again.”
At this time a swing set, a hot tub and a shed are floating between the houses, tangled up in the fence line.
No one was injured trying to escape the floodwaters, but the family is nursing some broken hearts.
“People have been really kind, calling to ask what they can do,” Knight said. “But what do you tell them? There’s really nothing they can do.”