STORMS leave damage, power outages throughout state

Tuesday, May 29th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Another round of heavy rain doused much of Oklahoma Tuesday, while utility officials hoped it wouldn't interfere too much with the efforts of 600 workers trying to fix snapped power poles and restore electricity to 89,000 people.

``Last July, we had back-to-back storms and we're hoping to avoid that kind of situation,'' said Brian Alford, a spokesman for Oklahoma Gas & Electric.

Alford referred to July 21, 2000, when storms with winds of 85 mph blew through, only to be followed by another storm with equally damaging winds.

``Everything we had accomplished in the first day of restoring power was undone the following night,'' Alford said. ``We're hoping we don't see a repeat of that.''

Sunday's storms left a trail of damage from Oklahoma's border with Kansas to the Red River and were blamed for one death and at least a half-dozen injuries, mostly minor.

At its height, homes and businesses without electrical power numbered 165,000 statewide.

Alford said there were thousands of square miles of damage in OG&E's service area.

``You can realistically go from Woodward to Alva to Enid south to the Texas state line, then you could probably go east to Muskogee. That's a damage path that really crosses the state.''

The storms began in Kansas and moved first into northwestern Oklahoma, unleashing 83 mph winds that ripped off much of the roof at the Little Boomers Playschool in Woodward.

``It'll be a month before we can totally get back in here, because they'll have to totally replace the roof and the carpet,'' director Susan Stephenson said.

In Ellis County, straight-line winds believed to have reached 100 mph toppled an empty grain storage tank and blew over a building in Shattuck, Fire Chief Tim Abbott said.

``It was wind, my word, wind,'' Abbott said Monday. ``That wind lasted for 20 to 30 minutes and it was fierce.''

Minor tree and camping equipment damage was reported at the Little Sahara, Boiling Springs, Alabaster Caverns and Fort Supply Lake state parks in the region, officials said.

Four campers at Big Bend Recreational Area at Canton Lake suffered cuts, officials said. The campers were treated and released from Okeene Hospital on Sunday, Tim Coffey, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said.

To the south, two schools had roof damage and two downtown buildings were blown off their foundations when the storms hit Garfield County, said Mike Honigsberg, Garfield County emergency management director.

In central Oklahoma, winds reported at more than 85 mph hit Quail Springs Mall in northwest Oklahoma City, knocking out power Monday morning, officials said.

Windows were particularly vulnerable on the city's west side, as high winds shattered glass at several hospitals and a high-rise office building.

One of the hardest hit areas was southwestern Oklahoma, where a woman riding on back of a motorcycle was killed late Sunday when a power pole fell on her. Authorities had not released her identity by late Monday.

Meanwhile, Betty Raulston shook her head in disbelief as she surveyed the ruined storefronts in the Lawton strip mall she owns.

``G & G (Piano Gallery) is gone,'' she said. ``Cinderella's Secret is gone; Alternative Weight is gone. Tipton's is going to be gone. This has never happened before in 35 years.''

Farther to the south and east, roofs were damaged at several businesses and the City Hall complex in the Murray County town of Davis.

``When all this rain was coming down, we lost the roof and had about 2 inches of rain inside the building,'' Police Chief Darryl McCurtain said.

``We're without electricity and do not know when it will be restored. ... Right now we're running off a little generator,'' he said.