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Officials Cautiously Begin Looking Toward Recovery as Keystone Dam Releases Taper Off

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City of Tulsa
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Floodwater along the Arkansas River has started to recede as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers steps down releases from Keystone Dam.

Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum said Friday while emergency officials are beginning damage assessments and residents are starting to return home, the area is not out of the woods.

"We are still in a flood event. The elevation of the river is still in flood stage, and the capacity of that dam is still not where it needs to be to safely insulate all of us from a major rain event upstream," Bynum said.

Tulsa’s levees continue to hold despite being underwater for more than a week, and now the pressure should slowly come off of them as release from Keystone Dam decrease. The National Guard and USACE have quickly addressed trouble spots.

"But there are some issues that have popped up from an erosion standpoint that are of a larger nature that are really going to require some significant work once the water is at the proper elevation, and we’re doing all of this cognizant that we can expect more rain next week," Bynum said.

Bynum said people who live behind the levees who left their homes should not try to return yet, and those who stayed should still be ready to leave at a moment’s notice in case a levee fails.

Bynum also urged area residents to stay safe. River Parks are still closed, and flooded areas are developing sinkholes, including one 20 feet deep on Charles Page Boulevard.

Some residents will soon be allowed to return to flood-damaged neighborhoods. Deputy County Commissioner John Fothergill said  Tulsa County Commissioners are trying to help flood victims, who will need to obtain demolition and electrical permits as they start the recovery process.

"We are working and should have final word on Monday to reduce those costs for those affected by the flood. We are trying to get those costs waived for those permits," Fothergill said.

The Town and Country neighborhood at 145th and Highway 51 was hit especially hard, and officials are asking for volunteers to help with cleanup on Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to dark. Volunteers should wear boots and heavy leather work gloves. People without them will be turned away.

Officials recommend volunteers be current on their tetanus shots before working. Volunteers will help residents remove items from inside their home, shovel out muck and debris floodwaters brought in, and remove building materials that were covered with water.

Mental Health Association Oklahoma CEO Mike Brose said the initial focus during recovery will be on property issues.

"But as we continue to move into recovery, there will begin to surface emotional fatigue, depression, anxiety. There will be temptations to self-medicate to deal with the pain in the aftermath," Brose said.

Information on mental health assistance is available 24 hours a day through 211.