Drones are hurting rescue efforts in Oklahoma as dangerous flooding continues


Homes are inundated with floodwater from the Arkansas River in Sand Springs, Oklahoma, a suburb of Tulsa.

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TULSA, Okla. — Emergency helicopters have been hard at work searching for victims, dropping supplies and monitoring dams that threaten to overflow as flooding ravages Tulsa, Oklahoma.

But hobbyists trying to capture pictures with their drones are standing in their way, authorities said.

The Tulsa Police Department posted a video to its Facebook page calling on drone operators to follow Federal Aviation Administration regulations and keep the unmanned aircrafts out of the way of emergency helicopters so as not to impede rescue efforts.

If you can’t see your aircraft, Sgt. Richard Meulenberg said in the video, it is too high.

About 30 drones were flying illegally on Tuesday, according to Tulsa Fire spokesman Andrew Little. The helicopters cannot work in areas where a drone is spotted because of the potential for a crash, he said.

“So you’ve got a guy who is out here taking pictures for fun and then you have a group that’s out here trying to save lives,” Little said. “Which is more important?”

Tulsa’s police and fire departments asked those flying drones to stay away from levees and the Arkansas River so first responders can get to them safely and to check the FAA regulations before they fly.

All 77 of the counties in Oklahoma were under a state of emergency Tuesday because of historic flooding. At least six people have died in Oklahoma over the last several days as flooding, severe storms, tornadoes and straight-line winds have hit the state.

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