Ice storm causes 18 deaths, power outages in Midwest
By James Beltran
Copyright 2007 The Associated Press
DES MOINES, Iowa — Much of the nation's midsection was in the icy grip Tuesday of a tree-snapping, flight-canceling, roadway-closing storm that spread from the frozen Plains.
The National Weather Service posted ice and winter storm warnings Tuesday for parts of Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa and Illinois.
About an inch of ice was expected over parts of Iowa, followed by up to 5 inches of sleet and snow. "It's a pretty good ice-maker," said Frank Boksa, a weather service forecaster.
The waves of frozen rain left at least 18 dead in Oklahoma and Missouri, with 15 of them killed on slick highways. Officials in Kansas and Oklahoma declared states of emergency.
Rain that started falling Monday evening was causing slushy conditions in the Kansas City metro area and farther south, where temperatures hovered around freezing.
"The predictions were pretty grim, and they're still not good at all," said Noelle Runyan, a weather service meteorologist. "With ice accumulations of more than half an inch, that could easily cause limbs to break, power lines to come down. It's going to be across a fairly wide area."
At Kansas City International Airport, most incoming flights scheduled after 8 p.m. Monday were canceled, as were a few dozen departures.
Westar Energy, Kansas' largest electrical provider, said outages started spiking as temperatures dropped after 10 p.m. Monday. Some 25,000 were without power.
Spokeswoman Gina Penzig said the company was prepared for the worst, calling in hundreds of line workers from states like Colorado and Nebraska — farther away than the utility normally goes to get additional help.
Oklahoma utilities said Monday that 500,000 customers were blacked out as power lines snapped under the weight of ice and falling trees — the biggest power outage in state history. Utilities in Missouri had more than 100,000 homes and business without power.
"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."
Schools across Oklahoma were closed and some hospitals were relying on backup power generators. The Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers sent 50 generators and three truckloads of bottled water from Texas to distribute to blacked-out areas of Oklahoma.
Tulsa International Airport had no power for about 10 hours and halted flight operations for the day, and most morning flights at Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City were canceled because of icy runways. Greyhound bus passengers were stranded overnight at a shelter in a church in Tulsa, and were joined by some local residents who had no heat.
Portions of Interstate 35 and Interstate 44 were shut down early Monday afternoon in Oklahoma City after ice-laden power lines collapsed and fell into the roadways.
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 had crashed onto his wife's sport utility vehicle.
At O'Hare International Airport, about 200 flights were canceled by late Monday, with delays of up to 45 minutes, said Chicago Department of Aviation spokeswoman Karen Pride. Fewer than a dozen flights were canceled at Midway Airport, and a handful of flights were delayed for up to an hour, she said.
Associated Press writers Marcus Kabel in Springfield, Mo., and Sean Murphy in Oklahoma City contributed to this report.
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