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Arkansas River approaching historic highs, at least 7 killed as severe storms march through central U.S.


Another wave of severe thunderstorms is affecting the central United States since Monday, May 20, 2019, with heavy rain and nearly 100 tornadoes. At least 7 weather-related deaths were confirmed since May 21. Meanwhile, Arkansas River is approaching historic highs.

Authorities urged residents of several small towns in Oklahoma and Kansas to leave their homes as rivers and streams rose. The Arkansas River is approaching historic highs, while the already high Missouri and Mississippi Rivers were again rising after a multi-day stretch of storms that produced dozens of tornadoes. 

"The biggest concern is more rain," Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt said during a news conference following an aerial tour with Tulsa Mayor G.W. Bynum and other officials Wednesday morning, May 22.

The Arkansas River town of Webbers Falls, Oklahoma, was one such town. Town officials ordered a mandatory evacuation Wednesday afternoon because of the river’s rising level.

But Wednesday evening, a posting on the town's official Facebook page sounded the alarm for its 600 residents: "Evacuate Webbers Falls immediately. The barges are loose and have the potential to hit the lock and dam 16. If the dam breaks, it will be catastrophic!! Leave now!!"

Officials were encouraging residents in the Tulsa suburb of Sand Springs; in Fort Gibson, about 80 km (50 miles) southwest of Tulsa; and in Webbers Falls, some 112 km (70 miles) southeast of Tulsa to leave. All three communities are along the Arkansas River.

In Skiatook, Oklahoma, some residents had to flee their homes.

"Our house has flooded before, but it's never gotten into my whole house," Skiatook resident Terri Pittman told CBS This Morning.

According to Kansas Assistant City Administrator, Corey Schinstock, residents in parts of the city of Iola, along the Neosho River, were being urged to evacuate and officials had set up on emergency shelter at a community college. If the river reaches its predicted crest of 8.4 m (27.8 feet) Thursday, May 23, it would be the second-worst flood ever for the town of about 5 400 residents.

The deluge inundated roadways, closing highways in 22 Oklahoma counties and 17 Kansas counties, along with more than 330 Missouri roads. Amtrak suspended train service Wednesday and Thursday along a route between St. Louis and Kansas City because of congestion and flood-related delays.

"Any rainfall we get just continues to saturate the soils that are already saturated. Especially rivers and streams" said Oklahoma State Climatologist Gary McManus. There is simply nowhere for this water to go as it flows downstream from Kansas, McManus said.

The Arkansas River was at 11.2 m (37 feet), or 2.7 m (9 feet) above flood stage, at Muskogee, 72 km (45 miles) southeast of Tulsa, as of late Wednesday morning, according to the National Weather Service. The river was expected to rise to 12.19 m (40 feet) by Thursday morning, eventually reaching 12.49 m (41 feet).

The death toll since May 20 has reached 7 late Wednesday night.

Three people were killed in Missouri's Barton County after a destructive tornado hit Lamar-Golden City area Wednesday night (LT). NWS said the storm that spawned the tornado fired up in Ottawa County, Oklahoma, touched down near Baxter Springs and Galena in Kansas and then moved into Carl Junction, Oronogo and Golden City, Missouri, but no injuries were reported before it moved into Barton County.

2 people were killed in a traffic accident near Springfield, Missouri on May 21. 1 person was killed in Perkins, Oklahoma after driving around a high water warning barricade and into a flooded roadway on the same day. One tornado-related death was reported in Adair, Iowa early Wednesday, May 22. The Adair/Guthrie County Emergency Manager said one building was destroyed and two to three outbuildings were damaged on the farm, located just south of Interstate 80.

Featured image credit: Señor Hettler

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