Disaster aid Sought for Okla. Panhandle

January 11, 2007

Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry on Jan. 9 requested a federal disaster declaration from President Bush for three counties in the Oklahoma Panhandle that were hit hard by an ice storm and snow storm last month.

Residents of Beaver, Cimarron and Texas counties are still recovering from two storms that caused widespread power outages, stranded motorists and threatened livestock.

If approved by the president, public entities affected by the Dec. 19 ice storm and the Dec. 29 snow storm will receive funds for expenses tied to response and recovery efforts.

“The storms caused major damage to public infrastructure in the Panhandle and we want to give the people there every resource possible as they dig out, clean up and make repairs,” Henry said. “They’ve been through a lot this holiday season and deserve every bit of help we can get them.”

Preliminary estimates show almost $6 million in damage to cities, counties and local electric and telephone systems.

The damage survey was conducted by officials of the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management and local officials.

Tri-County Electric Cooperative officials said 1,200 customers remained without electricity on Jan. 9, but they expected all residential customers would have power by Jan. 12. At one point, about 20,000 residents were without electricity.

“The reconstruction process has been slowed by severely tangled wires buried in snow and mud,” Tri-County Electric spokesman Roy Smothermon said. “The line crews have to dig the wires out of the snow and mud, grab one wire in each hand, and manually untangle the wires by walking from pole to pole. This time-consuming process must be completed before the wires can be lifted in the air and attached to poles.”

Figures released by the governor’s office showed Tri-County Electric Cooperative alone sustained more than $3.7 million in damage to its system.

The storms required $881,000 in emergency protective costs, which includes overtime for first responders. There also was an estimated $156,000 in damage to roads and bridges.

Officials estimate it will cost about $1.1 million to clean up downed trees and other debris left by the storms.

The emergency management agency, the Agriculture Department and the Oklahoma National Guard helped provide assistance to Panhandle residents and delivered hay to livestock stranded in the fields.

“Because of their actions, both lives and property were saved and for that they should be commended,” Henry said.

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