11 Killed in Okla. Ice Storm; Hundreds of Thousands Without Power

December 11, 2007

A winter storm coated much of Oklahoma in ice on Monday, Dec. 10, knocking out power to more than 300,000 homes and businesses, disrupting flight operations and leading to traffic accidents that killed 11 people.

Most of the power outages were in the Oklahoma City and Tulsa areas. Schools across the state were closed. Ice-laden trees crashed into homes and power lines.

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 who were 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 following the crash, she said.

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 140,000 outages Monday morning, mostly in the Oklahoma City area. As of Monday night, Public Service Company of Oklahoma, which provides power to 500,00 customers, reported more than 250,000 outages in northeastern Oklahoma, including Tulsa.

Other, smaller power providers also reported outages, including Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives, which was reporting 25,000 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.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced that President Bush had declared an emergency exists in the state of Oklahoma and ordered federal aid to supplement state and local response efforts in the area struck by severe winter storms beginning on December 8.

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