OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — 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 can 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.
“I had to turn around. I couldn’t drive on the whole 10-mile stretch,” said Kristen Greenwood, 20, from her job as a supervisor at Original Fried Pies in Davis. She took a backroad to work because a lake was backing up onto the highway.
“I was lucky because my exit was just after the lake, so I could get on, but all the rivers are flooding over the bridges and the lake is overflowing,” she said. “I’m staying at work until they tell me to leave.”
Gazing out the pie shop window, Greenwood estimated the water on the other side of the parking lot was several feet deep: “Probably waist-deep on me, but I’m short.”
At the nearby Falls Creek Baptist Church Camp, about 5,400 young people were sent home early because organizers were concerned about being able to provide basic services amid flooding in the area.
“This is not in any way an issue of safety,” Anthony Jordan, executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, said in a statement.
Forecasters expected between 3 and 5 inches of rain to drop Thursday into Friday on the northwest corner of Arkansas.
“Those 3 to 5 inches are on top of all that rain they saw in May. Normally that wouldn’t cause the concerns we have. But they’re just so wet and the ground is already so saturated,” said Meteorologist Joe Goudsward, with the North Little Rock office of the National Weather Service.
Heavy rains from a separate weather system hit northern Indiana on Thursday, forcing hundreds of people from their homes near the Iroquois River even before the remnants of Bill move in Friday and Saturday. The Kankakee River was at risk, too.
Rains last month triggered floods that killed more than two dozen people in Oklahoma and Texas. Texas avoided major problems with Bill — pockets of dry air limited rainfall away from the coast — but waterlogged Oklahoma had few places that could handle more water.
The Washita River was expected to crest nearly 20 feet above flood stage at Dickson, about the level of its previous record crest, the National Weather Service said.
Campers at the Shangri-La RV Resort south of the Arbuckles were moved to higher ground as a precaution. “We’re ready for some sunshine,” resort co-owner Julene Potter said.
Associated Press writers Justin Juozapavicius in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Claudia Lauer and Allen Reed in Little Rock, Arkansas, contributed to this report.
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