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Tulsa stays prepared for catastrophic flooding

Posted at 9:51 PM, Apr 18, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-19 07:14:48-04

The images coming out of Houston are shocking to see. Luckily, at home, the City of Tulsa has a plan in action if floodwaters take over the city.

It's hard to imagine the city in a similar situation, but it happened nearly 32 years ago. It left Tulsa and its storm water management changed forever.

On Memorial Day in 1984, Tulsa looked much like Houston has been recently. Mingo Creek swelled and took over cars, homes and even lives.

“Seeing all that from the air and seeing the other areas that were completely underwater was something you'll never forget,” said Terry Young, the city’s former mayor.

Young had been mayor for 19 days when 14 inches of rain fell on Tulsa in only six hours and he had to make some of the most difficult rescue decisions of his life.

“Knowing that one or more of the decisions that you made of that sort may have resulted in some people floating down a creek and dying,” said Young.

A total of 14 people lost their lives that day.

Engineers immediately went to work long before the water dried up. Within a year, over 500 homes were torn down to give Mingo Creek and other waterways more room.

“Hydrologists and planners worked around the clock for two months,” he said. “Storm water detention facilities, master drainage plans, channel widening, re-channelization and those are things that are in place today.”

Now, Mingo Creek is surrounded by green space in order to accommodate any future floodwaters and to save lives in the process.

But Young urges Tulsans today to learn from history.

“Forgetting the lessons learned in the late 1970s and early 1980s, you can't forget that. You cannot forget that. You gotta stay the course, and that's what I hope happens in the future,” he said.

The City of Tulsa says the storm water management program that was established in 1984 continues to this day and will in the future in order to correct drainage issues as the city grows.  

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