Another Winter Storm Is On The Way To The State

Thursday, December 13th 2007, 7:37 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Wayne Wooldridge managed to make it one night in the house he volunteered to watch for his son, who was deployed in the U.S. Air Force overseas.

But after a massive ice storm hit the state, Wooldridge found he was losing sleep and left the cold, dark house for a shelter.

"I can get bundled up pretty warm in the house, but there was no light at night," Wooldridge, 68, said Wednesday. "We get spoiled. I'm not sleeping right. I go to sleep too early and wake up too early."

Wooldridge was among the hundreds of thousands of people whose homes or businesses remained without electricity after the three-day storm pummeled the nation's midsection, leaving behind widespread damage and at least 21 deaths.

"This was a storm of absolute historic proportions, certainly in terms of damage and the number of power outages across the state," said Gov. Brad Henry, as he toured an upscale, historic neighborhood in northwest Oklahoma City where debris from trees felled by the ice littered lawns and roadways.

"I want everybody to know that help is on the way. We are doing everything that we possibly can do. ... I have to stress it's going to take some time. ... There will be people throughout the state who will be without power for a number of additional days."

The number of Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. customers without power had plunged from more than 300,000 on Tuesday to 132,098 early Thursday.

"Our crews have been doing good work and one of the things that we see here is that as a part of our priority process, we always attack those problems that will bring the greatest number of people back up," said OG&E spokesman Gil Broyles.

Public Service Company of Oklahoma still had just over 176,000 outages.

The Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives reported about 42,500 customers without power Thursday morning, down from 87,000 outages at the height of the storm on Monday, said spokesman Sid Sperry.

About 50 high-voltage transmission lines in northeast Oklahoma were downed due to heavy ice, but Sperry said most of the damage was from tree limbs falling into power lines.

"Most of the crews are working 14- to 16-hour days," Sperry said. "We've also brought in almost 350 personnel to help the most heavily damaged co-ops."

Sunshine and temperatures in the 40s and 50s on Thursday should help those efforts, but another winter storm approaching from the west could dump heavy snow on parts of Oklahoma on Friday.

More than two dozen shelters were set up at churches and community centers across the state for people needing a warm place to stay. Exhibit halls at the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City were turned into a shelter Wednesday capable of housing more than 700 people.

Many of those without power were like Wooldridge and chose to stay home, hoping estimates of eight to 10 days before their power restored was overblown.

Stella Elam, who lives with her daughter near the state Capitol, hadn't had electricity since Sunday night.

"I have a gas fireplace with gas logs in it; the stove is gas and electric," Elam said. "We're warm, we just don't have electricity."

Elam purchased plenty of batteries, candles and lanterns before the storm, and food kept in her refrigerator held until Tuesday.

She was overwhelmed at the number of fallen trees in her yard and on her neighbor's property.

"I've lived here practically all my life. As I was driving to the store, I was looking at how much stuff is on the ground. It reminds you of a hurricane coming through.

"... it's like unless you see it personally, you don't feel the effects that some are feeling."

Meanwhile, officials continued to investigate deaths related to the storm. Of the 21 fatalities, 13 were the result of motor vehicle crashes; six died in house fires and two succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning, authorities said.

One of the victims was a 19-year-old pregnant woman from Colombia, who was found dead at a house with a power generator nearby, authorities said. Someone told 911 dispatchers that the woman had vomited several times and there was concern she was suffering from food poisoning.

The woman was dead by the time firefighters arrived. The carbon monoxide came from a generator placed near a front door, said fire Deputy Chief Tony Young.

Hospitals continue to see an increased number of patients with carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms, the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management reported.

Industrial-size generators for municipalities, bottled water, plastic sheeting to cover 2,000 damaged roofs and blankets arrived via the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which was authorized by President Bush's emergency disaster declaration for all 77 Oklahoma counties to help the state clean up.

The resources are being deployed to cities and towns through the state, ODEM officials said.

In downtown Oklahoma City, Billy Weaver, a 45-year-old homeless man, escaped the cold at the City Rescue Mission. Weaver said he's only had a quilt to wrap around himself to fend off the cold.

"I don't know what I'd do if we didn't have a shelter to go to," he said.

In hard-hit Tulsa, resources at area shelters had been depleted.

"Right now, we're throwing capacity out the window and just letting them come in," said Brad Borror, a spokesman for The Salvation Army in Tulsa, which has three shelters open throughout the metro area. "On a scale of one to 10, this is an 11 on our resources."

At the John 3:16 Mission in Tulsa, a lottery is held each day to determine who gets a bed, and the facility is scrambling every bed, mattress and bench it has to accommodate people, said The Rev. Steve Whitaker, executive director at the mission.

"It's gut-wrenching to turn those guys away," he said.

As for Wooldridge, he left the shelter he was in Wednesday morning after hearing that power had been restored to homes across the street from where he was staying.

"I'm hopeful," he said.