Emergency responders spent as much time digging their vehicles out as they did actually responding to emergencies according to reports from Rogers County Emergency Management Director Bob Anderson.
“It was worse than chaos,” said Anderson.
“OTEMS and Northwest Fire had to go out and get a kid or he’d be dead,” said Anderson. “They got struck and (Commissioner) Mike Helm sent a grader out to rescue them. They did get to him and saved him. It was 14 degrees. With wind its about 8 degrees and people don’t last long.”
He said county commissioners and their road crews had to come to the rescue in many circumstances. Everyone pulled together through multiple tough situations.
In one case Northwest Fire Chief Dave Puckett and Anderson responded to an ambulance that had become stranded on west Hwy 20. There was another south of Hwy 66 as well.
“They had one up north by Foyil but some good Samaritan in a 4-wheel-drive helped them,” said Anderson.
It quickly became clear the roads were impassable for ambulances, so fire trucks were sent for patients when people need medical attention, said Anderson.
“Some people that were stranded were just trying to come through Oklahoma,” he said.
In one case a man from Ft. Worth with horses became stranded on East Hwy 20 near the Justus school’s south campus.
‘That’s where I got stuck,” said Anderson. “We ended up have to send Claremore Fire to take an infant to St. Francis hospital. It was an emergency situation. This infant, I understand was critical.”
“We couldn’t fly them out, we couldn’t get an ambulance out.”
Anderson said county crews were battling the snow which just kept dumping a steady white blanket over the county, covering up any work the crews managed to accomplish and putting those men in danger at times.
Meanwhile, road work was interrupted constantly as crews had to help extricate stranded emergency responders who had become stuck in drifts while trying to save lives.
“They (county crews) were basically helping us when emergency vehicles got stuck,” said Anderson. “The critical stuff was coming first.”
Anderson said Wednesday morning, Water District 3 left a message on the phone they have a water break, he said.
“They are trying to get to the break. They need help to get vehicles in to repair the line,” said Anderson.
The Emergency Management military-style truck picked people who were stranded up Tuesday. One person on a county road was about to freeze to death, he said.
“That’s what fire departments were doing yesterday,” said Anderson, the exhaustion clear in his voice. “We wanted to get people out.”
Anderson said rescuers couldn’t pull cars out. Just getting stranded motorists to safety was a chore. As a result, stranded vehicles are impeding county and state crews who are struggling to clear the roads.
“Nobody has dealt with this situation before,” said Anderson.
He said people who are used to being able to get around in their 4-wheel drive vehicles during many circumstances are becoming stranded in this weather event.
“We got over 20 inches of snow in Rogers Count with 3-foot and 4-foot drifts in places,” he said. “I couldn’t even get home, that’s how bad it was on some of the main roads.”
Anderson said the Red Cross had 10 people in the shelter in Claremore Tuesday night, mostly motorists who had become stranded and had nowhere to go. Privacy laws prevent the Red Cross from giving out specific details of individual cases he said.
“Last time I seen something like this was back in 1968,” said Anderson. “We had 25 and 30 mile-an-hour winds yesterday. A couple of times we had zero visibility.”
He said country crews were working hard but had trouble making progress under those circumstances.
“They (county workers) are bustin’ their butts,” said Anderson.
He said Commissioner Dan DeLozier signed an Emergency Declaration Tuesday at the courthouse and it faxed in to the state … “but I got a feeling there are 76 more counties that sent the same thing in. Gov. Fallin already did the state declaration the day before trying to get ahead.”
People need to stay inside where it is safe and warm, said Anderson. Motorists trapped in vehicles could freeze before emergency crews can get to them. If a situation is a life threatening emergency, call for assistance.
Calls are given a priority according to level of emergency.
No thawing effect is expected until Saturday and Wednesday night, early Thursday morning temperatures are expected to reach all time lows. Anderson said another storm is expected Monday with yet another snow.
“We don’t know what the significance of that storm is going to be yet,” said Anderson. “We don’t have enough data yet.”
If you must go out for some reason take a cell phone, fuel and blankets. If you become stranded call immediately for assistance because it could take hours to be rescued. If at all possible, stay indoors, even if you have a vehicle that normally gets around well in snow and ice.
“Wrecker services were so overwhelmed yesterday,” said Anderson.
In Catoosa, he said the Fire Chief Denus Benton’s crew performed multiple welfare checks on cars to see if motorists had escaped.
“Catoosa (Fire Department) had to check over 30 cars on I-44 and the193rd Street area,” said Anderson. “He (Benton) had multiple incidents going at the same time.”
Catoosa Fire also responded to the collapsed roof at the Hard Rock casino Tuesday morning.
Anderson said Catoosa had set up a shelter. It was not a Red Cross shelter because the community center there has no showers but it was a warm refuge for people who were stranded with no place to go.
“I can’t say enough for what emergency responders tried to do yesterday,” said Anderson.