OKLAHOMA CITY – The remnants of a tropical storm that moved in from the Gulf of Mexico this week focused most of its fury Thursday on Oklahoma and Arkansas, pushing rivers to record-high levels and causing flooding as it crawled northward through the central U.S.
The storm has claimed at least one life since it came ashore Tuesday in southeastern Texas as Tropical Storm Bill before settling down into a tropical depression. A 2-year-old southern Oklahoma boy was pulled from his father’s arms by floodwaters late Wednesday. An estimated 10 inches of rain fell overnight on that area north of the Texas border and also forced the partial closure of an interstate.
Farther north, Missouri, Illinois and Indiana were bracing for flooding throughout the weekend.
“The water was just flowing like a river down the streets,” Amber Wilson, the emergency manager in Ardmore, said after the overnight downpour.
“It was so forceful that it washed away the barricades and pushed manhole covers out of the streets,” she said. Even giant trash bins gave way to the water.
Authorities found Jeremiah Mayer’s body Thursday afternoon about 30 yards from where the boy was last seen after being swept out of his father’s arms.
Ardmore police Capt. Eric Hamblin said the boy’s father was fleeing the rising Hickory Creek when floodwaters swamped him. He said the creek rose 12 to 15 feet in less than an hour.
Bill dumped more than 11 inches of rain along the coast of Texas before racing north and eventually slowing as it crossed into Oklahoma. The Washita River basin, which largely runs along Interstate 35 in southern Oklahoma, absorbed the heaviest rains.
Elvin Sweeten’s family owns a 600-acre homestead a few miles from the Washita. “I see water everywhere,” Sweeten said Thursday. “The entire ranch is under water.”
He said he and his son spent the night cutting fences so their cows and horses could escape to higher ground.
“We just stay here and hope that the water doesn’t get too much higher,” Sweeten said. “We have a boat. If we have to get out, we can.”
The Oklahoma Department of Transportation shut down I-35 in the Arbuckle Mountains north of Ardmore due to water and fallen rocks on the four-lane road, which connects Oklahoma City and Dallas. Southbound lanes opened Thursday afternoon, but a 4-mile stretch northbound was diverted near Davis.
Forecasters expected between 3 and 5 inches of rain to fall Thursday into today on the northwest corner of Arkansas.