STORMS leave damage, power outages throughout state

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

While 600 utility workers scrambled to fix snapped power poles and restore electricity to thousands, utility officials hoped predictions of another severe weather outbreak on Tuesday would be unfounded.

``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, which serves the majority of the 89,900 customers left without power late Monday.

Alford referred to July 21, 2000, when storms with winds of 85 mph blew threw, 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 with electrical power numbered 165,000 statewide. Some 89,900 were still without electricity late Monday, the Oklahoma Department of Civil Emergency Management reported.

That figure had included 70,000 OG&E customers statewide, but the utility later reported a decline to 44,000 systemwide, Alford said. About 18,000 were without power outside the metro areas, he said.

American Electric Power-Public Service Co. of Oklahoma customers without power numbered around 19,900, with 18,000 of those in Lawton, said Michaelann Ooten, a spokeswoman for the Department of Civil Emergency Management.

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 and lacerations, 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 suffered 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 through 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.

Numerous homes in town sustained roof damage, and several barns and outbuildings were damaged or destroyed, he said.

Rural electric cooperatives reported 675 poles down, but there were no estimates of how many customers were affected.

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 eat to Muskogee. That's a damage path that really crosses the state.''