Monday, August 14, 2017

County Officials Report on Flooding, Derailment

Charles House, Sequoyah County Sheriff’s Department, and Steve Rutherford, Sequoyah County Emergency Management director, said more rain on Monday morning will delay the cleanup and repairs of a train derailment about a quarter mile from Central School, east of Sallisaw, and the flooding that caused havoc in the county on Sunday.

Rutherford said, “This rain will most certainly slow it down. It will be at least five days to clean up.”

House said railroad and school officials met Monday morning to determine how long the school must be closed. It was decided the school will be closed again Tuesday.

The Union Pacific train derailed at about 8 a.m. Sunday due to heavy rain weakening the rail bed. The train was transporting liquid petroleum, or LPG, and none leaked. House said 10 cars and two engines derailed. The derailed cars were six tank cars carrying LPG and four regular cars. Five homes were evacuated.

“I set up a quarter-mile evacuation area,” Rutherford said.

He added, “I expect it will take a minimum of five days probably to clean up the derailment and maybe longer. It is raining now (Monday morning) and more rain is predicted for the rest of the week.”

Rutherford said he will meet with Central School Superintendent Larry Henson daily to determine when Central School can open up for classes again. He said it is only the school’s proximity to the derailment that is of concern. The road to Central School is all right, he said.

Rutherford said local fire departments and the sheriff’s office conducted 15 water rescues from flooded vehicles and homes in danger of flooding.

He said County Commissioner Jim Rogers and his foreman Roy Coleman had to be rescued from Roger’s vehicle when it was flooded in Gans.

Ironically, Rutherford said, Rogers and Coleman were on their way to rescue a woman from a flooding home, when Rogers' truck was flooded in Gans. The Sallisaw Fire Department took a backhoe to rescue Rogers and Coleman out of Rogers’ truck. The flooding was so high in Gans, Rutherford said, the two men had to climb into the truck’s bed to escape the water. They didn’t know at the time that the Sallisaw Fire Department had already rescued the woman they were trying to help.

Rutherford said 5.86 inches of rain fell at his office in downtown Sallisaw, but he saw weather reports from the weather service that indicated 8.6 inches had fallen in areas between Sallisaw and Muldrow.

“We had plenty of rain,” Rutherford said, adding, “I’ve never seen it flood that much before.”

Both House and Rutherford said many county roads were washed out. House said several road washouts have been reported in the Belfonte area.

Rutherford said there is no way to determine the amount of damage to county roads yet, but the county will be searching for help from the state and federal governments to help make repairs.

As far as both men know, all roads in the county were open as of Monday morning.

Rutherford was irritated about two men who bought toy tubes to float down Sallisaw Creek Sunday evening. At about 8 p.m. rescuers were called because the two men had not been seen.

Rutherford said the Vian and McKey Swift Water Rescue teams put in the 16-foot flat-bottom boat at Sallisaw Landing off Dwight Mission Road to search for the two men. At about the same time sheriff’s office personnel went looking on Wild Horse Mountain Road, south of Sallisaw.

“They heard the two men yelling for help, and were able to direct the Swift Water Rescue Team to them. They found them after dark and got them back O.K.,” Rutherford said. “I was dreading the team going out there, because there are so many stumps.”

The team did report hitting stumps during the rescue, Rutherford said, and will inspect the boat for damage.

Sally Maxwell, Senior News Director

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