With record rain, Oklahoma’s levee system is under extreme pressure


JUDY WOODRUFF: We return now to our lead story,
the severe weather devastating the heartland. Spring storms have led to at least six deaths
so far in Oklahoma. It has been hit by tornadoes, and flooding
there is nearing historic levels. I spoke by phone just a short time ago to
Oklahoma’s Governor Kevin Stitt. Governor Stitt, thank you very much for joining
us. Tell us now where you have been in the state
and what you have seen. GOV. KEVIN STITT (R-OK): Well, we have been all
over the state. I started — I have been touring Western Oklahoma
and saw some of our farmers that have kind of had some devastation on the flood side. I have been — I toured El Reno yesterday
that was the site of a deadly tornado. And I have been in Muskogee and then Tulsa,
Oklahoma, where we’re experiencing kind of record floods right now. JUDY WOODRUFF: And with regard to Tulsa, we
have seen that video. Is that a result of, as you say, record rain,
or is it just an inadequate water management system? What’s going on there? GOV. KEVIN STITT: You know, it’s record rain. The Keystone Dam, the Keystone Watershed,
we take a lot of water from Kansas, so Kansas, Southern Kansas, Northeast Oklahoma has had
just record rain over the last 30 days. About 11 of our 16 reservoirs are completely
full. And right now, they’re releasing 275,000 cubic
feet a second of water, and so basically that’s flooding a lot of Tulsa, South Tulsa, and
on down into Muskogee, the Arkansas River. And now, I mean, all that flooding is going
into Arkansas and starting to affect their state as well. JUDY WOODRUFF: So how are you and the other
officials in the state dealing with it? GOV. KEVIN STITT: Well, you know, I have been on
the phone with the head of FEMA, the secretary of the Army, and then I met with the three-star
general with the Corps of Engineers in Tulsa this morning. And our biggest concern is our levee system. So the Corps and our city has done a great
job over the last 50 years on our levee system, but with this much water and pressure on it,
that’s — the biggest concern is that we’re going to have a levee failure. So we have evacuated some neighborhoods and
we’re just monitoring that very, very closely. I have got the National Guard out that is
walking the levee system, helping monitoring that. We have got a town down south around Muskogee
that actually evacuated because it was underwater. So Muskogee has been hit the hardest right
now, and we’re just really monitoring our levee situation, because, if they go, we could
have some other neighborhoods also get flooded. JUDY WOODRUFF: So what do you need? What do you and local officials need at this
point? GOV. KEVIN STITT: We need the rain to stop up north. There’s more predictions of rain this afternoon
in Northeast Oklahoma and also into Kansas, which would exasperate this problem and the
inflows into these reservoirs. And then our Corps has no option but just
to start increasing the release flows. So that’s the problem. We’re having record releases coming out of
the dams. And that’s just flooding rivers to historic
levels. JUDY WOODRUFF: How are you keeping people
safe? GOV. KEVIN STITT: You know, our local emergency
management folks and our mayors have done a great job with our police and our fire of
going out, not only rescuing certain neighbor — certain folks that have been flooded out. And I got a tour on the airboat, and we actually
saw, it was unbelievable, literally two-story houses with just the very top of the roof
sticking out. But they’re doing a good job of actually keeping
us up to date on what — the maps we’re showing of citizens and the police going in, if we
are seeing water, and getting people out ahead of time. So, we haven’t had any levee breaks where
you’re going to have instant increase in water. It’s just been a slow rise. So we have been very fortunate. We have — it could have been much worse. We have had eight storm-related deaths since
April 30, and a couple of them were in the El Reno tornado. JUDY WOODRUFF: Right. GOV. KEVIN STITT: So the tornado and the flood
stuff has just been — it’s been a really tough couple weeks for our state. JUDY WOODRUFF: Certainly, a really tough couple
of weeks, and we certainly hope for the best and hope that the rain will let up. Governor Kevin Stitt, we thank you. GOV. KEVIN STITT: Thank you so much.

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