Between May 18 and 20, 1957, as rains drenched Tulsa, the Arkansas River flooded, causing caused 8,000 residents to flee their homes.
Volunteers place sandbags along Riverside Drive, looking north, in May 1957. The Arkansas River crested at 20.4 feet, according to news coverage; flood stage was 19 feet.
Courtesy Beryl Ford Collection/Rotary Club of Tulsa, Tulsa-City County Library and Tulsa Historical Society
Since Oklahoma statehood, the Tulsa area has had its share of floods. The City records at least eight from 1908-1986, often with major damage, injuries and loss of life.
Between May 18 and 20, 1957, as rains drenched most of the state, the Arkansas River carried floodwaters from the Cimarron River of north central Oklahoma to the northeastern community of Keystone. The deluge and flood affected Brookside, Riverside Drive, Garden City (on the west side of the river) and Bixby, and caused 8,000 residents to flee their homes. In its May 19 issue that year, the Chicago Tribune called the Tulsa flood the river’s worst in 34 years.
According to the article, “An all-night battle by thousands of workers kept the stream from surging over its banks into residential areas from which hundreds had fled before the high threat. Approximately 140,000 sacks and 5,000 tons of sand were used to block the tide for several miles. Backed up pools of sewer water stood in a 30-block area in Brookside.”
Although nine lives were lost due to the flooding across Oklahoma, the article says Tulsa was spared any fatalities.