Icy Storm Now Blamed For 15 Deaths

Tuesday, December 11th 2007, 6:52 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ President Bush declared a state of emergency in Oklahoma and ordered federal aid to help the state recover from an ice storm that has blacked out 600,000 homes and businesses and contributed to 16 deaths. Auto accidents on slick roadways killed 14 people, the latest on Monday night. A transient man died of hypothermia and a woman died of smoke inhalation in one of dozens of fires started when ice and falling limbs caused short circuits.

The presidential declaration authorizes the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate all disaster relief efforts and to provide assistance in dealing with the storm.

Oklahoma Gas & Electric reported more than 285,000 outages, nearly 246,000 in the Oklahoma City metro area, while Public Service Company of Oklahoma had about 250,000 without power, approximately 220,000 of those in the Tulsa area.

The Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives said about 65,800 rural electric customers were also without power.

``If you do the math, probably one out of three Oklahomans has no electricity at this point,'' said Gil Broyles, a spokesman for OG&E.

Utility officials said it could be a week or more before power was fully restored.

``We expect to have 2,000 line personnel and a couple of thousand tree crew members working here in town,'' PSO spokesman Stan Whiteford said from Tulsa Tuesday.

``We have a lot of extra crews that have begun arriving and more are arriving over the course of the day and tomorrow.''

OG&E spokesman Brian Alford said a wide stretch of central Oklahoma, the state's most populous region, was without power.

``We hope to have more than a thousand people on the ground today,'' he said. ``It's a combination of linemen and tree crews and assessment crews and other related personnel.''

More rain was forecast, but temperatures edged above freezing Tuesday, and ice coating trees and power lines was beginning to thaw.

Thunderstorms were developing in the western half of the state, but temperatures were rising.

``Rain will be passing through, after that there is another chance of rain this (Tuesday) evening, maybe a little more light freezing rain, but we're not going to have the amount of rainfall we've had the past couple of days,'' National Weather Service meteorologist Andrew Taylor said Tuesday.

``The freezing line has lifted to the northwest and much of the state is above freezing now.''

Taylor said it appears it will be Thursday before the state sees sunshine again.

Gov. Brad Henry cut short his vacation in Hawaii and was returning to Oklahoma. Henry had been in Hawaii since last week, when he attended the dedication of the USS Oklahoma Memorial at Pearl Harbor. He was to return to the state late Tuesday.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers sent 50 generators and three truck loads of bottled water from Texas to distribute to blacked-out areas.

The American Red Cross set up shelters for people without power or a warm place to stay.

Will Rogers World Airport and Tulsa International Airport were in operation. Some flights were delayed.

The Oklahoma City Zoo was operating on backup generators. Animals from hot weather climates, such as the lions, have indoor enclosures with generator-powered heaters.

``They are from Africa and this is strange to them, but they're pretty well fed and put on some body fat and are warm,'' said zoo spokeswoman Candice Rennels.