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In Oklahoma, Tulsa Braces For More Flooding, Big Test Of The City's Levees


People in Tulsa, Okla., are bracing for more rain tonight and tomorrow, and that means more flooding in a city that has already been drenched. It's led to floods, evacuations and a big test of the city's levees. Matt Trotter of member station KWGS in Tulsa joins us now. Hi, Matt.


SHAPIRO: How bad is it right now there in Tulsa?

TROTTER: So the Arkansas River that runs through Tulsa - since last Monday, it's up from 11 feet, which is a little above average but still pretty typical to more than 23 feet.


TROTTER: Its highest recorded level was back in 1986 at 25. So it's still 2 feet below that all-time high, but it's still really high here.

SHAPIRO: And how is the city dealing with all of this water?

TROTTER: Well, we have a levee system, and that's keeping water out of a lot of areas right now as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lets water out of Keystone Dam. That's the main dam for the reservoir upstream from us. But the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is just trying to balance those releases with what comes into the reservoir as we get just a ton of rain. I mean, some areas around us have had 20 inches in the past month. So it's a lot of rain that we're trying to deal with.

SHAPIRO: Yeah. Tell us about what city leaders are saying right now.

TROTTER: Sure. So earlier this afternoon, Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum held a news conference to give an update. Here's what he had to say about the levees.


G T BYNUM: The levees continue to operate as they're designed. They do have a heavy load on them. They're being tested in a way that they never have been before. We continue to encourage people that live behind those to please proactively relocate.

TROTTER: And the mayor is calling this a high-risk situation right now but not an emergency just yet.

SHAPIRO: Not yet, but more rain is expected tonight and tomorrow. So what is the outlook for the future?

TROTTER: Well, the Army Corps of Engineers is in charge of the dam, and they're hoping things will improve in a few days. What they told us during the briefing this afternoon was as long as what flows into the reservoir stays even or below what they're letting out, then things should be OK. They expect the level to start decreasing sometime this afternoon, and that'll make a little bit of room for any additional rain that falls in the area tonight.

SHAPIRO: Now, I understand that today city officials warned people to stay out of parks along the river. Have people actually been going there where the river has flooded?

TROTTER: Yeah, that's actually been sort of an interesting problem that's happened. People want to go look at the river, see what's basically a historic flood situation. They're taking photos and selfies. I've seen pictures of people actually wading into the river, full-on bathing in the river like it's their own personal hot tub or something like that. So today...

SHAPIRO: Not something people should be doing.

TROTTER: (Laughter) No, absolutely not. There's a few risks. The obvious one is it's dangerous just to walk around an area where the water's been eating away at the ground. Sinkholes could open up. But there's also raw sewage in this floodwater, and there's also venomous snakes. There's water moccasins that have washed down with the flood.

SHAPIRO: All right, Matt Trotter of member station KWGS in Tulsa, Okla., thank you for joining us, and stay safe there.

TROTTER: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Matt Trotter