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CNN BREAKING NEWS
Update on Hurricane Dean; Flooding in Oklahoma
Aired August 19, 2007 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Tropical Storm Erin causing extensive flooding, wind damage and power outages. No serious injuries have been reported. Deadly flooding in southeastern Minnesota as well. Four people were killed when two vehicles became caught in floodwaters, rising waters also prompted evacuations in several small towns.
It is incredible, the scene in many parts of country, particularly in Oklahoma, where you've got remnants of Tropical Storm Erin. We spoke with a number of official there's a short time ago and they said they're not really prepared for weather like this but they're doing the best they can to conduct some rescues of people just like in this video right here. People trapped on top of their rooftops.
Jacqui Jeras has been watching all the developments whether it be Hurricane Dean in the Caribbean and even now the remnants of Erin. These folks say they were caught by surprise.
JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, yeah, it really kind of ramped up a lot through the overnight hours and early morning hours in to Oklahoma. We knew there would be some heavy rain. I don't think we were quite expecting a flood.
Yeah, check out - this is the 12-hour radar loop and so it goes past some time. And you can see all the bright reds on than radar screen. That is where we are seeing all the heavy rain. Several inches per hour as this came down, and there can you see it's starting to weaken a little bit. You can also see the eye, so to speak, or the center of the storm. Look at rotation, look as it goes right now, north of Oklahoma City, and now it is heading along the I-44 corridor.
So the good news is is that it's over and done with now for Oklahoma City. But the bad news is it's going to take a while for all that rain and all that water ...
WHITFIELD: That water's got to go somewhere.
JERAS: Exactly. So it is going to have to run off, go back into the rivers. By the time those recede we're probably talking Wednesday. Let's go ahead and show you the next - can we go on and show you where the warnings are. Advance our map a little bit to where you can see where the heavier thunderstorms here. Seminole. And there are the warnings really concentrated across the middle part of the state. Our next focus, with what's left of Erin, classified still as a tropical depression, by the way.
WHITFIELD: Wow. It can be over land? No? JERAS: Well, normally tropical systems are over water. But what happened here is that our dew point or our moisture content is so very high, the temperatures as you know in this part of country, just blazing for weeks and weeks an weeks, so conditions were favorable enough that this was able to keep its warm core status. Basically you're still warm as you go higher up in to elevation. Normally you go warm to cold.
WHITFIELD: That's remarkable. And we talked with one fire department official, a captain, a moment ago and he said we're talking about 25 feet of water, and that's from one creek alone, and they expect it to crest later on this evening. So they could be dealing with a lot more water before it finely recedes.
JERAS: The big thing to keep in mind when you're dealing with an event like this is just stay home if you can. If you don't have floodwaters around your home or in your home, stay home. If you absolutely have to get out, don't drive across any roads that have water over them. That's how most people, the large majority people die in flooding, get stuck in their car. Think they can make it, maybe the road could be washed out underneath the water or possibly it's a lot deeper than you thought it was.
WHITFIELD: It looks like it may have been the case in Minnesota with the case of the four deaths as the result of something very similar. All right. Thanks so much, Jacqui. Keep us posted.
WHITFIELD: Winds from Hurricane Dean already pounding the eastern end of Jamaica. Texas is bracing now for a possible hit next week. CNN is your hurricane headquarters and we'll bring the live coverage of a FEMA briefing on the storm in about 15 minutes from now. I said good- bye to Jacqui. But I didn't mean it. Because you're back to talk about more Hurricane Dean. I missed you already.
JERAS: Yes. We have the 2:00 advisory in from Dean at this time and the winds are staying the same. Powerful Category 4 storm, 145 mile- per-hour, that's the winds and look at that, really closing in on Jamaica now. The hurricane force winds extend out about 60, 70 miles from center of storm, and it's about 80 miles away from Jamaica at this time. So you know that they're experiencing some of the rain bands, they are probably getting tropical storm force wind gusts and those hurricane force wind gusts should be arriving probably within the next hour or so. Forecast track still looking the same. Let's go ahead and show you that, show you where it's going.
The good news is, if you haven't been watching us, by the way, since last night at 11:00, the forecast changed. So it's only been about 12 hours or so that that skinny line we tell you not to focus on is actually south of Jamaica. So hopefully they won't be getting the direct hit. They could be getting the eye wall a little bit close, kind of scraping on the shoreline. So we'll watch for that and then we'll watch for the Cayman Islands as we head towards tomorrow, the Yucatan, Monday night into Tuesday and possibly another landfall in to the northern parts of Mexico, in the mainland. Still watching Texas. Right now all the models taking it away from Texas. I'm sure a lot those people are smiling, but take precautions. You don't want to let down your guard because things could change. Certainly with a hurricane. Especially when we're talking about a good three days out.
WHITFIELD: And a lot of folks are taking precaution. I talked to friends in Jamaica, they're on the Montego Bay side and already they've done all their boarding up, etc, but are looking for a new location, they are getting ready to move to another location because they have got a three-month-old baby in the house, too and they want to make sure they're in the safest place. They've been through it before. They know what it's like, and they know to take it seriously as do a lot of people there in Jamaica and other places.
All right. Thanks so much, Jacqui.
All right. We will join that FEMA briefing when it starts. Now we believe about 10 minutes from now. We'll continue with our coverage on that.
CNN SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT: "Criminally Insane" is coming up.
(BRIEF SEGMENT OF SCHEDULED BROADCAST)
WHITFIELD: Hello, I'm Fredricka Whitfield in Atlanta. We've been telling you about the remnants of Tropical Storm Erin and it wreaking havoc in Oklahoma in particular. In Kingfisher, seeing the Kingfisher Creek that has brought about about 25 feet of floodwater and now you're looking at live pictures of a rescue that is under way. You see the two people in the water to the right. We understand the circumstances to be as such -- that they were in their vehicle and their vehicle taken over by water which is now under water. And this rescue chopper is now coming in on them presumably to drop, perhaps, a rope or tether in which to try and pull them out. Let's listen in on the dialogue there in the chopper.
MASON DUNN, KWTV HELICOPTER PILOT: And how much weight they had onboard just to see if they can actually pluck both of these people out at one time.
WHITFIELD: This is a remarkable rescue you're seeing happening live there out of Kingfisher, Oklahoma. The voice you were hearing was the pilot, Mason Dunn. And you can see how they're precariously and gently and careful this chopper, rescue chopper is just -- it seems about -- above the water there. As they try to either reach toward at least one of the folks need to be rescued. So perhaps they'll try to throw something. Let's listen in again.
DUNN: It's the guy on the other side. The guy on the front is just an observer, I believe. So right now they're trying to make their way to these two people who have their life vests on, and trying to rescue them, with the helicopter guys.
WHITIFIELD: This is some incredible piloting you're seeing for one. And it looks as though it's a little bit difficult for them to reach these two, as you heard the pilot say, two people who have the life vests perhaps because of some currents that are pulling them away.
DUNN: They're still -- the hard thing about this is that pilot is trying to bring the helicopter to the left side, which is his blind side. I imagine that's pretty -- that's a lot harder to do than bring the helicopter to the pilot's side right now. So he's -- the observer in the left seat trying to tell him, up, up you know, left, a foot, this and that, down a foot. You know, whatever it takes.
So -- I would imagine they're going to take one at a time. They may try to get both of them. I don't know if this helicopter will handle taking two people. It depends on how much fuel they have on. I know they know about how much fuel they got on. On the helicopter that is they can only take so much more weight. And -- and it also depends on how you know, I hate to say this, but how big the people are that are in the water right now and plus when they come out of the water, they're going to be about 10, 20 pounds heavier, because they're drenched in water.
WHITFIELD: All right. There's one taking hold. Of the chopper there. Taking incredible strength to pull him up completely.
DUNN: This is an elderly person. That's going to be hard to do. And -- I can't believe they don't have just some kind of harness they can throw down to the people and pluck them out of the water that way. But right now they're telling them to hang on and they're going to try to fly them to higher ground, looks like, which is about a half mile away. These people are actually in the middle of a lake, looks like, and this is railroad tracks that you're seeing just to the bottom, you see that water rushing, that's railroad tracks that the water is rushing over.
So -- this person that is, you can zoom in a little bit, see what kind of, they're hanging on there. Looks like they've got one. Looks like it's a female that they're going to take to safety right now. Unless they've got a shallow area they can take them to. They've got quite a ways to fly with this person hanging on the helicopter right here.
WHITFIELD: This is an incredible rescue you're watching live happening at Kingfisher, Oklahoma. Two people who were in a vehicle that got overtaken by the floodwaters there. In some parts 25 feet high. And you see this person precariously hanging now on the to the rescuer who is also hanging on to the chopper as they try to make it to higher ground. Whoa, my goodness. Oh. All right. Well, with that vest on -- oh, boy. Let's hope this person is all right.
DUNN: That may have been a pretty hard fall. They need to get that person back up. At least they have a life raft on. Hopefully they can ...
WHITFIELD: You can see that was a t tough decision for the rescuers to make, while they were able to grab one person, one of the two, it was a difficult shot, trying their best to get that person to higher ground. And now try one more time.
Oh gosh. DUNN: She's going to sit on the skids this time. That's what they needed to do in the beginning. Got a little better vantage point right there. And I believe she is sitting on the skid. They're telling both of them to sit on the skids. Boy, tell what you, never seen anything like that. But that is scary.
WHITFIELD: What an incredible gamble having to be made right here, but rescuers obviously feeling like they had no choice but to try and execute the rescue in this manner as best they can. Now it seems as though they've got a pretty good hold of that one person in that chopper picking up a little speed there to head to higher ground and then make it back. Remember, there's still one more person in the water. One of two people that were in that vehicle that was submerged.
Let's continue to listen in. You're listening to a pilot from a news chopper. Mason Dunn.
DUNN: ... been in a helicopter before, let alone ride on the outside of it.
WHITFIELD: Carrying out this rescue, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, we spoke less than an hour ago to one of the captains there who talked about, this is the kind of common rescue they're doing right now. This is and on other roads. Because many of the roads have been overtaken by 25 feet of high water now as a result of the remnants of Tropical Storm Erin, something no one in this region really expected. And so it just kind of all happened at once. While it did happen in the overnight hour, the captain was saying he was thankful of that, it meant fewer people on the roads, but still a lot of folk was caught by surprise early today when they got on the roads, got in trouble, just like this couple in that vehicle.
And now you're seeing the landing, and tending to this one person rescue is clearly going to be very shaken up after falling off there.
DUNN: She's probably dazed.
WHITFIELD: Incredible rescue taking place live here out of Kingfisher, Oklahoma.
DUNN: Whoo. Just came close to some power lines. I tell you what.
WHITFIELD: Now presumably that chopper's going to make its way back, perhaps it's maybe going to be that same rescuer who will get back onboard or someone else, remember, that other person who is still in that water, the other passenger in that vehicle.
Our Jacqui Jeras is in the weather center, Jacqui, you've been watching this as well. And you've been seeing the pictures this afternoon just as I have, about the floodwaters. How this caught so many by surprise in Oklahoma. All kinds of rescues taking place but this one incredibly dramatic.
JERAS: Yeah. And this all just happened so quickly and it also really started in the very early morning hours. So I think people were probably waking up and looking around them and realizing, hey, we're in trouble here. This is all from the Tropical Depression Erin and that really brought incredible rainfall. This is a 12-hour loop. And Kingfisher is just to the north and west of Oklahoma City. You can see all oranges and reds, which have pushed on through there. Doppler radar is estimating somewhere between four and six inches of rain fell in a very short period of time. But there are some isolated spots around the Oklahoma City area that got as much as 11 inches of rain.
And that is since Thursday, and that's why we're having some of the big problems. I believe this area where the rescue is taking place is Kingfisher Creek, which runs through town. I'll show you on Google Earth and there you can see, here's Oklahoma and Oklahoma City. We'll zoom in. Kingfisher is to the north and west of there. Here's the town. Here you can see the creek here and also we have another river farter up to the north. So everything's kind of confluences here and comes together.
Now the latest flood stage that I could get from the USGS is showing us a 22.3 feet and that was at 9:45 this morning. Flood stage is at 20 feet. So that was only a couple of feet above flood stage, but the forecast here, before tomorrow morning, it looks like by 8:00 tonight, it's expected to be at 27.9 feet, which is just 1/10 foot shy of record flood stage. To give you an idea of just how incredible the flooding situation is, this could end up being a record flood on Kingfisher Creek.
WHITFIELD: Well, it is pretty frightening already indeed. Jacqui, thanks so much.
Captain Chris West is back with us, he is with the Oklahoma Highway Patrol. Captain, we were speaking the last hour, you told me about scenarios just like this. It's now unfolding live here on CNN. Now one of your choppers going back to the location where one vehicle was submerged, picking up the last, what we believe to be, right, the last passenger who is in need of a rescue. What do you know about this couple and how they got in to trouble?
CAPTAIN CHRIS WEST, OKLAHOMA HIGHWAY PATROL: Well, I just watched the rescue myself on the TV. I'd just drove home. But when we were up there we did get a call of a vehicle swept off of 81 by rushing waters, it was swept to the east into a wheat field. We dispatched - we had several helicopters that were up. We sent one over there. They were able to locate them and get one of the people rescued.
I, myself, probably like you guys, when the lady fell off the helicopter first I was kind of surprised. I mean, I hated to see that, we were able to get back around, get her picked up. You could see how vast that expanse of water was, how much land it covered. Obviously they had to carry her on that skid quite a ways to get her to safety and, of course, the helicopter has gone back out to try to get some other folks. I also understand we have got some people on rooftops we're going to turn our attention to when we get this one taken care of.
WHITFIELD: Wow. And we saw some video earlier. And you and I talked about it, people on the rooftops. But talk to me about how you conduct a rescue like this? How you are able to assess in an instant the best way to try to pluck someone from waters just like in? I mean, clearly, you know, sometimes you are just running across these folks, haphazardly, other times you get a call on it. But is this kind of the best way, the only way in which to retrieve two drivers who have been swept away in the waters like this?
WEST: Well, you know, I'm not trained and I'm certainly not a helicopter pilot and I got to tell you, I got to brag on our guys or our guys. They did a super job getting in there, assessing the situation and deciding whether or not they could do that rescue and take her like they did. That's not the biggest helicopter in the world, it's not the most powerful helicopter. They're not equipped with baskets or winches or anything like that. So for them to be able to go in and set down and put people on the skid, I think is a pretty significant rescue and we're glad they were able to get up there and do that for our citizens.
WHITFIELD: It is indeed a significant rescue. And I wonder about the safety of the rescuers. This is incredible piloting we're seeing here. The steadiness of this chopper here. And you can see clearly the water is tough. It is choppy, it's moving fast, and you know, this pilot and crew are having to be steady and, wow, here we go again with a very similar scene of that passenger kind of holding on there to the skid. Your heart must be kind of in your throat like mine is as you watch this, captain.
WEST: Yeah. It looks like to me they might be trying to maybe get repositioned so they can get him up on the skids better. Of course the lady was barely hanging on like that and of course ...
WHITFIELD: Oh, boy. Yeah. There we go again. This is a tough rescue. It's really is hard - And I think for a lot folks watching, who don't have is a real good grasp about how difficult rescues like this are. Perhaps you can help fill in the blanks as to how much of a challenge a rescue like this is for your folks, or for anyone for that matter.
WEST: I can tell you, I have flown in the helicopters and asked the pilots you know, all of those questions. And hovering a helicopter is the difficult part. When you're flying it forward, moving, that's the easy part. It is hovering. So for them to be able come in, in a bad situation anyway, where we're trying to rescue somebody out of floodwaters and set that helicopter down, and hold it steady enough, to try to get that victim up on the skid, and get them safe and secure and then fly out of there is a pretty good ordeal.
Now, of the two troopers onboard, the one on the right is going to be the pilot. The one sitting on the left side is the copilot. He's the one that's going to be free. That's why they're doing it on that left side. He can talk to the pilot. Say, do this do that, hold steady, whatever, while he and the other person try to get that victim safely secured on that skid and get out of there.
WHITFIELD: Oh, boy. You know, you're dealing with nerves here, too. I mean, you know, the rescuers are trained in situations like this, but you don't know how each victim is able to handle and react in emergencies like this. When you're in trouble. Some people panic. Other people kind of go into shock and they're just kind of -- you know, unable to be responsive.
WEST: Yeah. From the looks of this, I don't want to say they're elderly, but they're definitely not younger people. So they're probably not as agile. If you had younger people, they'd be able to climb up on that skid a little bit easier. These people looked like they got a little age on them. So it's making the workers, the guy on the skid and the copilot probably having to work a little bit harder to get the guy up on the skid. So it just makes the task a little bit more difficult.
WHITFIELD: Gosh. And do you have any idea, captain, how your folks got wind of them? How you were able to locate these two in trouble? Sine their vehicle was submerged. We never saw it, at least in this live picture, where the vehicle was.
WEST: Well we had a trooper that was positioned in a patrol car on the ground, and he actually witnessed the vehicle get swept off the road. And he was able to keep an eyeball on it, so to say. And then when the helicopters came in, they probably just looked for the people -- this guy looks like he's barely hanging on to the skids.
WHITFIELD: And then they were able to drop them at least the life vest.
WEST: They're having trouble getting him up. I think they know that the situation with him hanging on, they're going to try to get him set up on there. So I really have got my fingered crossed. I hope there are a lot of people that are saying prayers. This is a -- a tremendous effort to try to - but the potential, the risk involved here is high, too. So -- again, my hat's off to them, looked like they're getting ready to get him lifted him up and get him to safety.
These people are probably -- can you imagine taking on that skid. You know, the emotions of the entire situation, coupled with the physical thing. Having to hang on so you can be flown out there. They're probably pretty tapped.
WHITFIELD: Yeah, this is a heroic effort. It really is. This rescue team is remarkable, and thank goodness for, you know, the first eyewitness. He could see that this was happening to be able to get the call in, to get the rescue team there's right away, because, clearly, and even just seeing the way in which these victims are responding. You know? Time is of the essence and it has been from the very start as to when you're able to dispatch this kind of apparatus, this kind of rescue team to get there in time, because now we're talking, too, of exhaustion. You know? A victim certainly can be exhausted.
WHITFIELD: Much more quickly than if you were aware of your surroundings. But you are in an emergency situation, the adrenaline is pumping, and you get tired fast. So they came in the nick of time, it really does appears to be.
WEST: You know, and I -- we were up there earlier, talking about getting airboats and different boats out there. But with this helicopter flight, it was probably -- he was probably on the scene, rather than waiting for some airboats or flat bottom boats to get in. These guys probably just went ahead and seized the moment. Flew in there and said hey, we're going to do this thing before these people float further downstream. You can tell by the distance they had to fly, they were off the road a long ways.
WEST: And here he is sitting down and unloading the second victim. They're probably going to load him out and try to get him medical attention, but we're thrilled that we can come respond to the citizens of the State of Oklahoma and other people that, you know, get caught up in this situations. I know our pilots are dedicated people. You know, this might be the first one that's been across CNN.
But I know of other situations aside from this storm in the past where they've done similar missions, there's one of our - one of our lieutenants of our aircraft division in the tan that's walking up -- they're going to check on this guy's welfare. Make sure he's doing OK and try to get him medical attention, I'm sure.
WHITFIELD: This wan incredibly remarkable, it really was, and we are so happy that your rescue team was able to get to these two victims. Frightening moments for them indeed with their car overtaken by this floodwater, 22 to 25 feet in some parts. This in Kingfisher, Oklahoma. All remnants of this tropical storm which, captain, you were telling me a bit earlier, certainly caught a lot folks by surprise. While it happened late in the night or early in the morning, in the darkness, where you have fewer people were on the road, folks got out this morning and didn't really know what to expect. And that may have been the case here. Right?
WEST: Yeah. I mean, just to look back at the history of what happened overnight. We were up probably 2:30 I started watching this thing. And -- are you there?
WHITFIELD: Yes. I can hear you just fine.
WEST: I thought I was losing you. But anyway, you can see a tropical storm rotation like you see over the Gulf. And it was really strange to see it circulating over Oklahoma. And, of course, we a couple different tornado warning and high wind advisories and different things and part of I-40 was shut down for about six hours but I guess the accumulation of all the rain that came down during those hours on to these agriculture fields and runoff in to streams and creek, tributaries and eventually to rivers, these floodwaters came out, and now what we're looking at is over at Kingfisher County, the Town of Kingfisher. Kingfisher Creek is higher than it's ever been before. There's probably 200, 300 people that are displaced out of their residences and, of course, we just witnessed all this stuff that happened with the rescues with our helicopters. And there's just a huge amount of water dumped on us. And as the hours went, this stuff accumulated in to these big flooded plain areas that we're looking at.
WHITFIELD: So now while this rescue took place and successfully at that, how concerned are you that despite the fact it's now mid-day there and people are aware of the floodwaters, that there still might be other folks who are in trouble, or who need some kind of rescue assistance?
WEST: Well, some of the information I've got is some of these creeks and tributaries aren't going to crest until about 6:00 tonight. Hopefully people are going to be watching, they're going to be listening to news reports and they're going to be thinking about some of the things that they've seen or heard about and they're going to drive a little bit more careful. They're not going to drive into these areas where is the water's not only over the road but flowing over the road.
I mean, I've heard that you can have as little as five to six inches of water flowing with the current over the road. And that's enough to sweep a vehicle. We're talking about ...
WHITFIELD: Captain, I'm sorry to interrupt you. But as we watch, you know, the rescue that is successfully ended involving those motorists, now we're looking at a rescue of a very different sort taking place with what appears to be one resident on top of a rooftop. Now somehow going to be descending in to this rescue boat. Just going to try and watch and see how this happens.
WEST: Yeah, this is ...
WHITFIELD: In a case like this, what's the routine?
WEST: There's a current flowing through there, too.
WHITFIELD: I see that.
WEST: Looks like the operator of that boat is -- looks like it's just a bass boat, a fishing boat. Doesn't look like it's any official emergency -- like a fire department rescue rig, not that, looks like somebody in a fishing rig that's fighting that current to try to get to that guy on the rooftop. And you can you see, it's already swept him away from that house pretty quick. You can tell looking at the water, it's moving really -- good.
WHITFIELD: And how deep? And this area, just I guess, looking at the houses, maybe we're talking about eight to ten feet, because most of these homes, correct me if I'm wrong, are these, like, ranch homes. Right? Not two story homes.
WEST: Yeah. This is probably a rural farmhouse. We're talking about the plains, agriculture area, that's probably what's underneath all this water we're looking at. They could be wheat fields or alfalfa fields. Things of that nature. It's river bottom land, where the ground is so fertile. That's where they have a lot of luck growing those types of crops.
WHITFIELD: And this boat is chugging right along and trying really hard to work against that current to now, perhaps, reach the corner of the house where that person looks like he's ready to jump in. If they can get close enough.
WEST: Yeah in the bottom right hand corner there's a car that is almost totally submerged. Probably at least four and a half foot there and then the house up on higher ground.
WHITFIELD: Wow. Here we go.
WEST: Good thing for that guy to do is just jump in.
WHITFIELD: Another successful rescue here. That one, seemingly a little -- a little bit more effortless. You know, than the other, certainly makes a difference, as you said. It appears the other two victims they have been a bit older and getting around and being frightened by being submerged in the water, certainly make as big difference. And now it looks like they will make their way around this current anyway. Who knows. Whether to get to another residence where there may be someone in trouble or ...
WEST: Yeah. And my hats off to these people. They looked like they're just good Samaritans making use of a boat they had to get out and make some rescues. Like I said, that does not look, like I say, like a fire department rig. It looks like there's a trailer motor on the front. I don't see anyone that appears to be wearing any type of a uniform. So my hat's off to them. They've got obstacles while they're in that boat going that they're having to think about. There's five stand barbed wire fences. There's fence post, mailboxes, all kinds of stuff that is underneath that water. That they may not know about. So these people are taking a little gamble, but my hat's off to them. They're out there concerned about their fellow man.
WHITFIELD: Yeah. That's something I wanted to ask you about. But when you said wheat fields it made me start thinking that eliminated perhaps a lot of the other obstacles you might see in I guess more densely developed or populated areas on the ground, and potentially under that water. Not the case. It's just as dangerous is what you're saying.
WEST: Right. What's amazing, watching these pictures is just how -- how broad, how widespread this flood is across this land here. I know when I was in Kingfisher, that Kingfisher Creek was coming up and as it crossed through town it was about a quarter mile across, I mean, this thing is huge on this flat land, how it's all spread out.
And it looks like a lot of it has got some depth to it so this is a tremendous amount of water.
WHITFIELD: Is most of this area farmland? You mentioned wheat fields but are we looking at the Kingfisher area as mostly farms, developed farmland?
WEST: Yeah. This is an agricultural area. Mostly wheat, some alfalfa, maybe some other stuff but it's primarily flat ground. You have some creeks and stuff that run through. I believe the North Canadian River runs through there from the northwest down through the southeast. And you've got, like I said, a couple of creeks that feed it. But primarily farmland. A lot is really flat and a lot of it is down along the river bottoms.
WHITFIELD: Mostly crops or are you talking about livestock as well?
WEST: Yeah sure. There is going to be a lot livestock in that area as well. A lot of these people that do grow the wheat. They also run their cattle on that wheat. So lots of cattle. Kind of a farming area.
WEST: Also good people. A good place for folks to be. I know plenty of people from up there. Good friends, and hate to see them having to go through this.
WHITFIELD: Yeah. No kidding. Now we're looking at, it looks like we're zooming in on a roadway. Not sure if those are rescue vehicles lined up or if those are folks who realized, uh-oh, this road is now going to nowhere, let's just park it. What kind of calls are you all receiving at highway patrol about people who are out and about, who are not quite sure how to navigate the roads on this day?
WEST: Well, let me tell you, in other parts of the state I don't know if it's this significant, but I know down in Carnegie, which down in Kettle County, last night with the floods, we had a vehicle that was swept off the roadway. I believe the local police department responded to it but the highway patrol bike (ph) team has been dispatched to that area. One of the victims hasn't been recovered. So we're going to do a search in some those bodies of water to try to recover those folks.
And there are several similar stories across different parts of the state. Where the waters came up, the vehicles went off in the creek, rivers, ponds, whatever. A couple different rescues have been happening. I think this is the only one where we've been using any of our helicopters to conduct this type of rescue, but like I said earlier I know that we have done them in the past.
About a month ago, five, six weeks ago, we had the flooding area, that was up in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and Miama (ph) and Coffeyville, Kansas. We took our helicopters up there. We had probably five or six of our airboats that were working up in that area, conducting rescues. You know, if these waters are rising like we were talking about 6:00 tonight, cresting time, surely -- I'm sure that there's emergency managers and other people across the state that are assessing the different situations and trying to determine if there's any other communities that could be affected like Kingfisher is getting right now.
WHITFIELD: Well, captain, we would love to talk to those pilots who did an outstanding, heroic job of rescuing those two motorists. So if you are able to get in connection with them, let them know we'd love to hear their story and how they were able to keep it together to carry out such a marvelously risk-taking rescue effort that brought about very successful results. We're looking ...
WEST: Well ...
WHITFIELD: Go ahead.
WEST: We really appreciate you guys taking the time to share this coverage with the rest of the country. I know that there's incidents that happen everywhere. I mean, there's no telling what the people down in the Gulf States are dealing with now. This might be pretty minor compared to what they have, but thanks for taking the time to share what those guys did for those people.
WHITFIELD: Well, it's been an incredible afternoon of witnessing, how they go about their day-to-day business and then just really sprung in to action when things got particularly hairy as it did for those two motorists trapped in that vehicle and then, one appears to be, captain, those good Samaritans, who pulled their boat up to that home to get the one stranded resident there, and I imagine that your lines are going to be busy all day. You'll be busy all day carrying out various types of rescues and emergencies. In times like this I think people often think about the most vulnerable. Folks who are generally homebound or perhaps those who on a regular basis need the kind of round the clock medical attention.
Are they the priority so that you all try to get out to them in anticipation of a call that you might be later receiving from their loved ones?
WEST: Well, I think probably the people that manage those types of fasts, whether it's a nursing home or whatever, those are the people that probably start making the earliest preparations, and then, of course, we kind of start getting into the mode of here it comes, get ready, the police are calling and we're going to have to respond, and I think that's pretty much what happened last night. I know was visiting with you guys earlier today. And I think you were going to try to get over to Tonga (ph), Oklahoma.
That was very much the case. That was a nursing home they felt might have been in jeopardy. The nursing home administration was able to make the changes and move the people before anything happened. And then sure enough, the roof was taken off of the vehicle. And because of their early thought process to go ahead and move people, nobody got injured.
So we're just a small part of the equation. Hopefully when people do what they should to stay safe and take care of people we don't have to get calmed in to help them. I think it's probably a slim minority we actually have to come out and help.
WHITFIELD: Wow. And we're looking at an airboat being used, too. I'm not sure if that's part of your division or some other emergency response division there in Kingfisher, Oklahoma. And it's unclear, just trying to look at pictures. Maybe it really does look right now to be sort of a command post location there in Kingfisher, where emergency response teams are kind of getting together, sharing resources before that airboat makes its way back out to what used to be a creek and now looks like a huge lake to rescue any other folks who may be trapped in their homes or even in vehicles. We're going to cue up one more time remarkable, live pictures moments ago.
Now you're going to look at tape of a remarkable rescue taking place of two motorists who were trapped in their vehicle. Once their vehicle became engulfed with all of this water. It happened as though a passerby called for help and then the Oklahoma Highway Patrol got their emergency helicopter into action. You're seeing here the attempt for the first rescue. They were unable to reach both of them at the same time, even though they with live vests were in the same location, it was difficult, as you can see right here, for the rescuers to be able to secure both of them on the skids of this helicopter.
So one at a time, they were plucked in the water. Harrowing moments. Because you see once they plucked that first, I think we are at the first attempt for this first victim here. You're going to see while they have that person, it appears to be a woman, on the skid there, you see how she's trying to hold on for dear life there. But it's going to take about a couple minutes before they make it to higher ground. And we were listening to the news helicopter pilot, who said it's about a half mile that they had to travel and then momentarily you're going see she loses the grip, and she falls in to the water. Pretty frightening moments there.
And frightening, too, for the rescuers, because this is a very dangerous, even though they're very well prepared and trained for anything and everything, this is still an incredibly dangerous rescue taking place here. And taking place less than an hour ago right here on CNN.
And right there she takes the plunge, right there. Seemingly pretty shocked. Very still. Nervous moments. Wondering if she's OK. Hopefully she didn't hit anything that may have been underground. It's unclear how deep this water is. We were talking to the captain earlier. A lot this land where you're seeing this water now mostly crop fields. Wheat in particular, but, still, you've got other obstructions. You've got things that could be underneath that water you just can't simply see, from mailboxes to other protruding objects and maybe even other vehicles. Then they're able to go back, pick her back up and make their way to dry land. Where they had a pretty good grip of her.
You'll see perhaps they make it to dry land or just trust me. I don't think we're going to go throughout the whole video on that. And then turn around and once they assemble themselves again, with the rescue team in place, you've got pilot a copilot on the left who's really kind of a navigator. So most of the rescues are taking place on the left-hand side of the helicopter. So it really is a blind spot of the pilot. They turn around and let's look now at the second rescue. We believe to be a gentleman, maybe even an older gentleman, just by everyone surmising his movement. He, too, gripping the skid of that chopper. Nervous moments, because you feel pretty certain after seeing the first rescue that he, too, just might lose his grip.
And they're trying really hard to hold onto him there. And there you go. He drops off as well. The chopper reassembles, makes its way back. Seemingly this gentleman is OK, but you can see just from the body language, it's difficult to communicate out there. Remember, you've got the spiraling chopper blades there. It's loud. It's difficult to hear one another, and at the same time, the rescuer is trying to be as calm as possible to try to give just likely this shocked victim instructions on how to get a good grip of this skid, but because he is, I'm sure, nervous, and tired, because, who knows how long they've been out in the water, it's quite difficult for him to get a good grip. They try it again. He does.
And on the second chance, it all works out just fine and they make it to dry land and we are still awaiting word on the condition of these two. And hopefully they're receiving medical treatment right now. Not long after that, as we continued to talk to the highway patrol captain who gave us a pretty good blow-by-blow on the kinds of rescues that take place like this, we able to watch yet another rescue taking place. It taking place live as well. Not with the top of the chopper, but the captain was telling me he thinks these are good Samaritans who simply got their fishing boat out and they had to battle the currents here, because what is usually Kingfisher Creek has turned in to a raging waterway.
It took them at least two attempts to get to the corner of this house before that resident, lone resident on the top of that roof, was able to simply jump in to the boat, and be rescued safely. Some pretty harrowing moments there taking place, particularly in the Kingfisher, Oklahoma area, which is seeing the greatest amount of floodwaters, we're told anywhere from 22 to 25 feet of water. Overflowing from the Kingfisher Creek, and now new, live pictures, of what appears to be three people on the rooftop. Waiting for a rescue to take place. And here we go. Maybe one of the airboats with the city or at least some other emergency preparedness division -- to pick them up.
Thankfully the water looks a little bit more calm here. Rescuers able to get out of the airboat, presumably give a few instructions to see if they can pluck these three people to safety. All this, the result of the remnants of Tropical Storm Erin. A lot of folks in Oklahoma caught by surprise. They simply didn't expect this kind of deluge of water.
They certainly didn't expect that the Kingfisher Creek, in particular, would overflow its banks as it did. Jacqui Jeras is in the weather center as well. You've watching all this incredible, heroic moments, Jacqui. At the same time, we're seeing the results of some devastating weather effects here.
JERAS: It just happen so quickly. I think that's why so many were caught off guard. The river even started rising as of about 5:00 this morning. I wanted to show you a Google Earth animation, to kind of give you a better feel of what's going on. There is two different rivers. The City of Kingfisher is kind of surrounded by these rivers and this water. This is the Kingfisher River, the creek rather, which is on the northern and western side of town. Then this is Uncle John's creek which goes down here onto the eastern side and all of this area up here, this is all agriculture land, farmland.
And that's where most of the flooding is occurring right now. But what we're very concerned about is right here is where the river gauge stage is. We're going to switch sources and show what you the river levels are expected to do here opinion our meteorologist Brandon Miller doing that for us. Showing you that the latest stage that was observed was 9:45 this morning.
So you know it's well beyond that at this hour. And at 9:45, it was 22.3 feet. So if you can't see these, I'll walk you through this, by the way, and that shows you in this red strip that is what we consider this a moderate flood, several feet over flood stage, which is 20. Now it's forecast here about 0 Z tonight. Which would be 7:00 local time, that's when it's expected to crest. And it's expected to crest at 27.9 feet, and that is one tenth of a foot shy of the record stage of 28 feet, and I just read a statement in from the National Weather Service that says if we get up to 28 feet what that would do is flood the river, and about 50 city blocks -- we'll go back to our Google Earth source and I'll show you the area we're tern concerned about.
This is Highway 81 which runs through town. Right here is the intersection of 33. Everything in this area would be covered with about eight feet of water. So that's a lot of homes, that's a lot of businesses and a lot of people being affected, and that's not supposed to happen for another say, four, five hours yet. So this situation will likely get worse before it gets better, and it is expected to start receding pretty significantly, then, once we head in to the late evening and overnight hours and be closer down within the banks later on into Monday and into Tuesday.
WHITFIELD: Wow. Those are incredible numbers. So once again, Jacqui, you're talking about the potential now of the kind of flood area that would be equivalent of 50 city blocks, if we're talking about flood stage, or cresting of just over 27 feet? Over 28 feet?
JERAS: Right, 28 feet, and they say that should flood 50 city blocks.
WHITFIELD: Wow. That's incredible.
JERAS: And it is forecast to be right about there.
WHITFIELD: Wow. And on this Sunday, when many folks are at home, or earlier this morning venturing out to get to churches, that's why you saw a lot of motorists who get to themselves into trouble. This is a very different scenario than say, if it were as the captain with the Highway Patrol was saying during a weekday, when folks are getting out to work et cetera.
But we're talking about an area that is mostly residential. So a lot of folks if they didn't get out of their homes in time, we're talking about probably a lot of -- a lot more rescues taking place on rooftops throughout this afternoon.
JERAS: All right. Absolutely. Sunday morning, people are getting up and they are getting out, and they're trying to go to church. Maybe didn't even turn on the television before they did that. And another thing, this is a good reminder to tell people about NOAA weather radio. If you have your NOAA weather radio and have it set to your county, Kingfisher County, you would have been alerted in the middle of the night, at 8:30 this morning, when some of the warnings stated going off, your NOAA radio goes off and alerts you that hey, there's a flood warning.
Kingfisher Creek is forecast to go out of its bank. If you live in a low-lying are that is flood prone then you need to get out. Just another true telling tale of why you need a NOAA weather radio and how it can help you out in a situation like this.
WHITFIELD: Wow, that's a good reminder because I think a lot of people think of those NOAA radios as being most instrumental and helpful during tornadoes. Even though Oklahoma is very much part of the Tornado Alley, but folks don't think that even in terms of flooding, they can give you good warning as well.
JERAS: Absolutely. Critical information that could ultimately end up saving your life.
WHITFIELD: OK. And while now, Jacqui, it looks fairly dry in terms of the sky's potential for dumping any more rain. It looks as though it's fairly sunny there. At this point it's an issue of cresting and then eventually receding. Or is there anything else waiting in the wings to bring more moisture to that area?
JERAS: Well, the storm is well to the north and east of there. So unless we get incredible amounts of rain upstream that could eventually make its way down, that could aggravate things a little bit.
But right now, what is left of Tropical Depression Erin has weakened very significantly. We're not anticipating real additional flooding in this area. It's dry in Oklahoma City. It's dry in Kingfisher and no rain in the forecast now yet tonight or tomorrow.
WHITFIELD: Wow, and Jacqui, I know we're concentrating right now on the remnants of Tropical Storm Erin here in Oklahoma. Let me ask you quickly for those who perhaps have loved ones or folks in the Caribbean area, which is where Hurricane Dean is kind of the biggest threat right now. Jamaica being the place that, I guess is on the hit list next. Right?
JERAS: Yeah. In fact, it's only - it's less than 80 miles away from Kingston, Jamaica. Near the coastal areas on the south shore. So they're experiencing right now tropical storm force winds. Very heavy rains with these bands, they push on through. The mountainous area in the eastern Jamaica, that's being affected at this time, concern about flooding and mudslides.
WHITFIELD: All right, Jacqui, I'm going to ask you a bit more. We're going to take a short break for now. We'll come back with more on our extreme weather coverage here in the States as well as in the Caribbean.
WHITFIELD: Hello, again. I'm Fredricka Whitfield in Atlanta, we're watching two significant weather events. One, Tropical Storm Erin remnants, wreaking havoc in Oklahoma and then the threat of Hurricane Dean in the Caribbean. Let's begin first with what's happening in the Oklahoma area. You've been watching pretty dramatic video taking place out of the Kingfisher, Oklahoma area in particular. Right now you're looking at various types of emergency response apparatus that are now starting to come out in droves. So many different types of rescues taking place because of what we understand up to 25 feet of floodwater that has just taken over a good part of this City of Kingfisher as well as many other cities.
Apache County as well and this incredible rescue that we watched unfold live here on CNN as did you, as you're seeing now, tape again of these heroic rescue attempts taking place.
Two motorists who were in their vehicle simply got overpowered by high water. The water taking over their vehicle completely. You never even got a chance to see their vehicle in these pictures but we did see the two motorists bobbing in the water. Someone had already thrown them life vests as they waited for this Oklahoma Highway Patrol chopper to come in.
It was a difficult rescue, to say the very least. You're dealing with the waters that were very choppy. The current that was moving these motorists around quite a bit, and we saw some terrific piloting as the chopper descended just above the water, what seemed like less than a foot before this rescuer, who was kind of hanging precariously outside the chopper door there, trying to reach over to one victim at a time.
It appeared as though the search person who was rescued, who was plucked from the waters, was an elderly or at least an older woman. You're seeing the results of what turned out to be a successful rescue of her.
I kind of get ahead of ourselves there, because, well, it became a successful rescue. It wasn't without a few bumps in the road, so to speak. They picked her up and then she dropped from the chopper right in to the water. They turned around, picked her back up. Same happened for that second victim.
Now I want to take you away from Oklahoma for a moment. I want to take you straight to Utah now where that is Richard Stickler with the Mining Safety and Health Administration giving the latest update on the continuing efforts to try to find the six trapped miners in Utah.
RICHARD STICKLER, MINING SAFETY AND HEALTH ADMINISTRATION: ...running between seven and eight percent oxygen. The other gas there is insignificant compared to the oxygen levels.
Borehole number two and number three. We're pumping air in approximately 5,000 cubic feet per minute into these boreholes. Number four you know drilled in to the mine approximately 9:00 yesterday morning. We spent four hours of quiet time on the mountain where we had all the equipment, bulldozers drills shut down. During that time we monitored by using hard microphones, and also our geophones on the surface.
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