11 Traffic Fatalities As Ice Storm Blasts Oklahoma

Monday, December 10th 2007, 6:34 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- A winter storm coated much of Oklahoma in ice Monday, knocking out power to more than 400,000 homes and businesses, disrupting flight operations and leading to traffic accidents that killed 12 people. Freezing conditions also led to the hypothermia death of a 46-year-old Oklahoma City transient, the state medical examiner's office said.

Most of the outages were in the Oklahoma City and Tulsa areas. Schools across the state were closed. Some hospitals were relying on backup power generators.

Michelann Ooten, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management, said a state of emergency was declared for the entire state. Fifty industrial generators and three truck loads of bottled water were on their way to the state to be sent to blacked-out areas.

Ice-laden trees crashed into homes, power lines and cars throughout the region.

The sound of branches snapping under the weight of ice echoed through Oklahoma City neighborhoods.

"You can hear them falling everywhere," Lonnie Compton said Monday as he shoveled ice off his driveway. A large elm tree in his front yard crashed overnight onto his wife's sport utility vehicle.

"I always liked the look of the tree, but I think I'm going to have to take it out."

Tulsa International Airport was without power and flight operations were halted. Greyhound Bus service was disrupted, stranding passengers, some of whom spent the night in a shelter set up in the First Baptist Church in downtown Tulsa.

Also taking shelter in the church were some local residents who had no heat because of the power outage.

Most morning flights at Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City were canceled. Only one of the airport's three runways was operational. The other two were iced over.

Freezing conditions hampered crews battling a fire at Jones High School. Nobody was injured in the early morning blaze, but firefighters said most of the school would be destroyed.

Jones, a 2,500-person town 20 miles east of Oklahoma City, was without power and had very low water pressure because there was no electricity to power water well pumps.

On Interstate 40 west of Okemah there was "one huge cluster of an accident" involving 11 vehicles, including a tractor-trailer rig, that killed four people, Sunday evening, Oklahoma Highway Patrol Trooper Betsy Randolph said. All 11 vehicles burned.

Authorities were on the scene Monday morning of a crash in Tulsa in which a man's car struck a power pole and he was electrocuted, said Kevin Rowland, chief investigator for the state medical examiner's office.

Other fatality accidents were reported in Tulsa, Canadian and Tillman counties and two people died in separate accidents in both Oklahoma and Beckham counties. Troopers had worked at least 100 traffic collisions since Saturday night.

"With precipitation falling throughout the day, we're discouraging travel statewide," Randolph said. "If you have to get out, we want you to go slow. All the roadways throughout the state are going to be slick in spots."

Oklahoma Gas & Electric, the state's largest utility, reported nearly 170,000 outages Monday morning, mostly in the Oklahoma City area, while Public Service Company of Oklahoma reported more than 180,000 outages in northeastern Oklahoma, including Tulsa.

Other, smaller power providers also reported outages, including Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives, which was reporting 55,750 outages.

"This is a big one, we've got a massive situation here and it's probably going to be a week to 10 days before we get power on to everybody," said Ed Bettinger, a spokesman for Public Service Company. "It looks like a war zone."

Another round of ice was expected to move northward across the state and continue dropping freezing rain throughout the day Monday.

"There's actually more that's developing this (Monday) morning southwest of Oklahoma City," said National Weather Service Meteorologist Scott Curl in Norman.

"The storm system is still hanging off the southwestern part of the U.S. and will work its way slowly east the next 48 hours," Curl said.

Curl said temperatures should begin warming above freezing by Tuesday afternoon, although rain was expected to continue in the state through Wednesday.