National Rural Water Association

2915 S. 13th Street

Duncan, OK 73533

580-252-0629   FAX 580-255-4476

Contact:  Chris Wilson,

 June 12, 2008 
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Rural Water assists Picher after tornado strikes


PICHER, Okla.  – Water sprays from dozens of broken and damaged connections in the tornado-ravaged town of Picher. Water technicians struggle to improve water quality enough to lift a boil order, but the water system’s testing equipment and system operator Joe Thompson’s home have been taken by the storm.
            “All of my testing equipment was in my truck, and the truck was blown away,” Thompson explained. “My home was blown away – I wasn’t thinking too straight.”
            Thompson called the Oklahoma Rural Water Association to ask for assistance. The EF4 tornado that struck on May 10 left six dead, with 150 injured and a 20-block section of Picher destroyed. ORWA Wastewater Specialist Randy Caskey arrived the next day to help deal with the town’s water problems.
            “They already had pumps up and running,” Caskey said.
The system’s wells and water tower were undamaged from the tornado. An emergency generator provided power to the water utility despite downed lines and other damage. The problem was with the systems chlorine injection. Typically an easy problem to fix, the loss of equipment and general confusion following the destruction created problems in restoring water quality.
            “When it’s a disaster it’s a little different,” Caskey said of the situation. “It’s complete chaos.”
            Caskey brought a testing kit and worked with Thompson to resume the system’s chlorination process.
            “We flushed fire hydrants and tested until we got residuals,” he explained, referring to chlorine residuals that would show the water had been disinfected.
            “We took samples the second day so that they could lift the boil order,” Caskey said.
            Two days after the tornado destroyed huge portions of the town, the effort had restored safe drinking water.
            “He was a big help,” Thompson said of Caskey’s assistance. “He helped us through the process. He helped keep us focused and kept us within the regs.”

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