Residents of Oklahoma and Arkansas near the swollen Arkansas river prepared for flooding on Wednesday, moving valuables to higher floors of their homes as Tulsa's mayor urged thousands to be ready to flee in the event of a "worst-case scenario".
More than a week of violent weather, including downpours and deadly tornadoes, has devastated the central United States, bringing record-breaking floods in parts of Oklahoma and Arkansas, turning highways into lakes and submerging all but the roofs of some homes.
More rain is forecast, and the flooding is expected to spread, according to the National Weather Service (NWS) and local officials.
"The rain has been coming fast and furiously and it all has to drain through the rivers," Patrick Burke, a meteorologist at the NWS Weather Prediction Centre, said in an interview on Wednesday. More heavy downpours were forecast through Wednesday night over much of the two states, he said.
By early June, rivers are expected to crest to the highest levels on record all the way down to Little Rock, Arkansas, Mr Burke said.
In Tulsa, Oklahoma's second-largest city, mayor GT Bynum warned that the city's 70-year-old levees were being tested "in a way that they have never been before".
“Please prepare for the worst-case scenario that we’ve had in the history of the city,” he said on Tuesday. So far, he added, the 32km levee system, which protects some 10,000 people, was working as designed and being patrolled around the clock by the Oklahoma National Guard.
Staff at the Harvest Church West Tulsa, which sits a few blocks from the Arkansas river behind a levee, moved furniture and sound and office equipment from the basement to the church's second floor and relocated staff out of the neighbourhood.
"For levees that are 70 years old, they're holding well, but they're not designed to hold the pressure this long, which is what the fear is at this point," Chuck Barrineau, the church's lead pastor, told Reuters. He said a colleague was spending Wednesday gathering cleaning supplies and canned goods to distribute to neighbours as needed.
At least six people have died as a result of the latest round of flooding and storms in Oklahoma, according to the state’s department of health.
The US Army Corps of Engineers has raised the release of water from the Keystone Dam, located in northeastern Oklahoma on the Arkansas and Cimarron rivers about 37km from Tulsa, into the river system to 7,800 cubic metres per second to stop the dam from overflowing.
A plague of extreme weather has upended life in the region, with more than 300 tornadoes touching down in the Midwest in the last two weeks.
Several tornadoes touched down in Kansas on Tuesday evening, damaging homes, uprooting trees and ripping down power lines, according to the NWS. Tornadoes also pulverised buildings in western Ohio, killing one person, and injuring scores of others. – Reuters