As lone GOP congressman delays disaster funds, Oklahoma drowns

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Deadly floods and tornadoes continued to wrack Oklahoma over the weekend, killing at least two people and leaving thousands without power, after Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) on Friday declared an emergency in all of the state’s 77 counties.

The declaration by Stitt came the same day Congress shot down a $19.1 billion disaster relief package after a lone GOP representative objected.

“Our nation is strong enough and compassionate enough to have a responsive and fiscally responsive approach to help people who are hurting in the wake of natural disasters,” Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX) said on the House floor as he delayed the funding measure.

The funding package specifically addresses ongoing costs from Hurricanes Michael and Florence, but several of its provisions would also provide relief for floods or tornadoes across the country in 2019.

As Roy spoke, the Arkansas River in Tulsa, Oklahoma, had surged to four feet above flood level. By Saturday, city officials were urging residents in some parts of the city to head to higher ground as 70-year-old levees threatened to fail under the rising water.

“There’s been nothing even remotely similar to this for decades,” said Kimberly Lollis-McCauley, 31 of Hominy, a small town located on the Osage Nation northwest of Tulsa.

Lollis-McCauley said four to five feet of water flooded into her three-story home last Monday and Tuesday. When they finally got back, she said, her car was totaled and her couches were still floating in her living room. Now, she and her family are working on ripping out carpet and drywall and pumping out that water that continues to come in.

“A lot of the homes in these older towns were just overwhelmed with water,” Lollis-McCauley told ThinkProgress, “because the water had nowhere to go to.

The small town of Braggs, Oklahoma, southeast of Muskogee, was completely surrounded by water and without power Saturday. There was no word on how many of its 260 residents were able to evacuate ahead of the flood.

Arkansas and Kansas also experienced flooding over the weekend. Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly asked for federal assistance Sunday as 46 out of 105 counties were under a state of emergency. In Indiana, a four-year-old boy drowned in flood waters Thursday.

President Donald Trump approved a federal disaster declaration Saturday for the 10 Oklahoma counties most affected by the flooding.

A powerful storm system that swept across Oklahoma on Saturday night and early Sunday morning flattened a motel and trailer park in El Reno, just west of Oklahoma City, killing two people and leaving at least 29 others injured. In the town of Sapulpa, southwest of Tulsa, a tornado that spun off the same system early Sunday morning mangled power lines, tore the roofs off buildings, and flattened some structures.

As of Monday, more than 5,500 residents were still without power across the Tulsa area in northwest Oklahoma. City officials put additional evacuation plans in place Monday morning as the Army Corps of Engineers planned to release more water from the Keystone Dam, putting additional pressure on already strained levees.

Central and western Oklahoma also faced fresh flood warnings Monday morning, along with a tornado watch.

In rejecting the compromise disaster funding bill Friday, Roy cited concerns about its lack of deficit offsets and the absence of funding for southwest border security — a concession Trump reportedly agreed to only after pleas by Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Sen. David Perdue (R-GA).

Roy took advantage of a rule that allows a single member to block a bill that is up for unanimous consent rather than a roll-call vote. With most of Congress already out of town Friday for the Memorial Day weekend, the move effectively delayed the disaster funding bill another week after months of negotiations.

As he stood on the House floor Friday to block the funding measure, Roy worried that the government would not be “capable of defending the nation and responding to disasters such as these” if it continues deficit spending and does not secure the southwest border.

Lollis-McCauley called Roy’s objections to the funding measure “unfortunate” as she spoke to ThinkProgress from a Home Depot where she was buying a shop vac to pump more water from her flooded home.

“That’s their whole reason for being in office, to serve the community, not their agendas,” Lollis-McCauley said.

Lollis-McCauley said the local community has banded together in the face of the disasters. She described churches helping people rip out sodden sheetrock as neighbors house people who have been displaced by the floods.

“Despite all of this political drama that’s occurring on the national scale,” she said, “our local communities are getting it taken care of.”

An earlier version of this article identified Rep. Chip Roy as a senator. He is a congressman.




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