Cherokee Nation Emergency Management Services were on full alert after rivers and creeks in Northeastern Oklahoma swelled out of their banks for the second time this year.
The Illinois River trickles and splashes down out of the Cookson Hills on its way to the post-Removal capital of the Cherokee Nation in Tahlequah. The clear and cold water with occasional rapids makes the Illinois a magnet for summertime fun with canoes, kayaks and inner tubes.
The weather is too cold for water sports now, and Tahlequah has taken a foot of rain over one weekend, causing a flood on the Illinois that crested at 30.7 feet, the highest water level in recorded history. This follows deadly and expensive flooding in the same area in May of this year.
Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission Administrator Ed Fite told the Tahlequah Daily Press that the flood is not just historic but also “catastrophic” and “extremely dangerous.” Normal December water flow in the Illinois River is 600-700 cubic feet per second. The current flow is 130,000 cfs as the water level breaks the record set on May 10, 1950, at 27.94 feet.
Tulsa Channel Six reported that the flooding has caused a rockslide and closed scenic Highway 10 where it normally follows the meandering path of the Illinois near Peyton’s Place, north of Tahlequah.
Floodwaters have come onto the campus at Northeastern Oklahoma State University, and most fire departments in the Tahlequah area were busy with water rescues. The Cherokee Phoenix reported that Cherokee Nation Emergency Management helped with sandbag barriers on the Northeastern campus and donated water for persons displaced by flooding in Adair County.
The Cherokee Nation also delivered water to several cities in Delaware County where authorities have issued orders for people to boil their water.
There are no reports of fatalities yet, and according to Facebook postings from local people, families and friends are still sorting out whether anybody is missing. It is too soon to estimate property damage because damage is ongoing, but the pricetag is bound to be substantial. Tulsa Channel Two reported that dozens of Tahlequah families remain forced out of their homes.
The National Weather Service predicts that the floodwaters will be topped with four inches of snow this week.