- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 26, 2015

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Record-smashing rainfall and torrential flooding that hammered Oklahoma this month has likely caused millions of dollars’ worth of damage to roads and bridges across the state, although official estimates won’t be available for weeks.

While the visual image of powerful tornadoes may be more eye-catching, officials say widespread flooding takes a far bigger toll on roads, bridges and other public infrastructure.

“It would take a pretty hefty tornado to take out a bridge,” state climatologist Gary McManus said. “But to get this kind of widespread destruction, that’s really more of a flooding-type of situation.”

Although there are no official damage estimates, early projections in just two of the state’s 77 counties - McClain and Pittsburg - total around $4 million.

“There’s really just no way to put a dollar figure on it yet,” Oklahoma Office of Emergency Management spokeswoman Keli Cain said. “At this point, we have roads we haven’t even been able to look at yet because they’re still under water.”

Dozens of state highways remained closed Tuesday in 20 counties stretching from central and northern parts of Oklahoma to the borders of Texas and Arkansas. At the county level, damage was even more widespread as the slow-moving storm forced already swollen creeks and rivers over their banks and floodwaters overtook bridges and roads.

“I’ve got one bridge washed completely out. It’s plumb gone,” said Pushmataha County Commissioner Rickie Briggs, whose district in far southeast Oklahoma has people who remain trapped in their homes because of road closures.

In nearby Pittsburg County, early estimates are around $2 million in damage to public infrastructure. A similar figure was cited by McClain County Commissioner Wilson Lyles, although he said damage surveys are still continuing.

“We lost several large culverts, several sections of roadway,” Lyles said. “I just don’t know if any of those bridges will have to be replaced.”

With nearly a week left in the month of May, Oklahoma’s statewide rainfall average already has reached 12.93 inches, breaking the previous record of 10.75 inches from October 1941, McManus said. The previous wettest May was 10.54 inches in 1957.

“We smashed both the wettest May and the wettest month. Not just broke it, but absolutely smashed it,” McManus said. “And the forecast calls for another good dousing by the end of the month.

“I don’t know if people realize the history they’re seeing here.”


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