Claremore Daily Progress

October 9, 2013

Flood of '73: 40 years later, memories linger

By Dale Denwalt, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Lindy LeGrant had just enough time to reflect on the disaster swirling around her.

From a reinforced fence behind Dwelle Drive in the Brookside neighborhood of Enid, the teenager saw survivors on rooftops and onlookers on the high ground.

She also saw the rescuers who came in the only boats powerful enough to fight the current. The same current ripped her and a friend from the fence and cast them both into the deadly October 1973 flood.

“There was absolutely no way anyone could get to us,” she said 40 years later.

The weather that day started innocuous enough. People knew it would rain, but it’s unlikely anyone expected nine fatalities in a storm that set Oklahoma’s 24-hour rainfall record. According to National Weather Service, the official total was 15.68 inches in 13 hours, with 12 inches falling in one three-hour period.

Torrents that fell that day collected and sped their way down Boggy Creek to Brookside, and to the house LeGrant lived in with her friend. The 17-year-old’s parents had moved away from Enid, leaving her to finish her senior year of high school here.

When the two noticed there might be a flooding problem, LeGrant decided to put her car in the garage.

“I could see it through the dining room window, and when I walked to the front door, my car was floating through the front yard,” she said. “It came up extremely fast. Extremely fast.”

They spent the next few minutes trying to save valuables and finally retreated through a raised kitchen window. By then, the water in her backyard was over their heads. She’s alive today because both teens were such good swimmers.

“That’s what saved our lives, because otherwise if we didn’t know how to swim against the current, we wouldn’t have been able to maneuver in it at all,” LeGrant said.

They found that fence, and later down the way pulled themselves on a boat still attached to a trailer. The boat sank, but not before they ran up against a house sheltering more than a dozen people on the roof. It would be their refuge through the night.

Her story is just one of many from that night. In the years since Oct. 10, 1973, those stories have been told by survivors and people who helped. Some bear repeating, if only for posterity and as an example of heroism.

In the days after the flood, a brakeman for Frisco Railroad was recognized for saving a baby who had been ripped from her mother’s arms.

According to a report in the Enid Morning News, Tom Baker was switching cars at a grain elevator when he heard screams in the darkness. He ran down to the water just in time to see the child go downstream.

“I couldn’t just stand there and I didn’t know what to do,” he told the paper.

He jumped in and swam through the swift current, finally spotting the child’s head bob up out of the water. The mother and child were saved and taken to a rescue camp, but Baker never got their names.

Back in Brookside, Elizabeth Decker remembers being trapped in a service station.

She was alone in an apartment above the station when the flood hit; her husband was working out of town and couldn’t get to her until the next day.

“About a week later, it started raining and I told my husband, ‘I’m going home. You can stay here and go through this one,’” she said.

At nature's mercy

Bob Berry was a young man working for his family’s real estate company in 1973, and lived away from the worst of the flooding. He was surprised when a friend came by, urgently asking to help move his parents to higher ground.

As they reached the neighborhood, Berry remembers going across a bridge that had been overtaken by the creek. He hugged the upstream side of the bridge as best he could.

“We were barely on the road, we’d bounced so far over,” he said.

When they reached his friend’s parent’s house, they began working on raising what wasn’t bolted down.

“Somewhere in that there was this, ‘Bam!’” he said. “It was the back door that blew open; the water pressure just shattered it.”

They all got out, though, and Berry spent the next few days pumping water out of basements. Because many of them were just dirt cellars, he was only allowed to remove a foot of water each day.

“If you pump the whole basement out, the weight of the house will implode the whole house into the basement,” he said.

Cherul Rork and her husband ventured from relative safety across town to help rescue his parents. Their car became flooded and they both sought refuge in a nearby home.

“There were four or five of us on her bed, because we couldn’t go anywhere else in the house. We all just sat on the bed,” she said.

Rork was most worried for her unborn first child.

“I feared for all that, and I don’t swim very good at all,” she said.

Luckily, the water didn’t force them to climb up to the roof.

(Editor's note: Could it happen again? Look for a follow-up on this story next week. We will present an investigation into the precautions the city of Enid has taken in the past 40 years to prevent a repeat.)