Okla. emergency crews stay busy during winter storm
Power lines spark fires
Copyright 2007 The Oklahoman
OKLAHOLMA CITY — Oklahoma City Deputy Fire Chief Tony Young said firefighters were called to 31 house fires and 396 total emergency calls from midnight Sunday to 2 p.m. Monday. At one point, Oklahoma City firefighters were fighting seven fires at the same time.
Young said 114 of those calls were for downed power lines. Firefighters are asking residents to call Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. for power line issues unless the lines are either on the ground or on fire.
In Bethany, Fire Chief David Beck said firefighters responded Monday to a number of reports of transformer explosions caused by ice forming on lines and tree limbs. Fires were sparked in some trees due to downed lines, he said. No property damage or injuries were reported.
In Tulsa, officials said one woman died of smoke inhalation after a house fire Monday afternoon. Officials did not release her name, but said the cause of the fire appeared to be electrical in nature, according to the Tulsa Fire Department.
Paramedics in disaster mode
The Emergency Medical Services Authority was swamped with calls much of the day.
"Paramedics have moved into disaster mode," spokeswoman Lara O'Leary said Monday afternoon. "We are responding to calls as fast as we can."
She said 27 ambulance crews were working to keep up with the calls, including checking on people and responding to calls from people who needed to get to the hospital but were afraid to drive on icy roads.
Paramedics responded to more than 350 calls between 6 a.m. Sunday and 4 p.m. Monday, she said.
"We're doing the best we can to get to them," O'Leary said.
Norman's water plant loses power
Norman's water treatment plant and well system lost electrical service Monday, causing city officials to buy water from Oklahoma City.
Norman City Clerk Mary Hatley said officials are asking residents to conserve water, although "we're in no danger of running out of water, so residents should not be alarmed."
Officials want to ensure an adequate water supply in the event of fire, she said.
Help for elderly available
The Oklahoma Department of Human Services' Division on Aging said on Monday all of the state's agencies serving the state's nearly 450,000 eligible seniors were open.
"We've had a couple of counties struggling with power outages issues," said Lance Robertson, state director of aging services for DHS. "Some have had to modify their services."
Help in delivering services has been provided when a county loses power.
The aging services division works with hundreds of providers across the state. It provides community- and home-based services, including programs to provide food for seniors still living in the home.
Many offices closed
Ice storms closed city hall buildings throughout the state on Monday.
A large number of residents in The Village were without power, mostly west of May Avenue, City Manager Bruce Stone said. He said so few employees were able to make it to work that City Hall was closed at noon.
"We had power but we had no people," Stone said.
The Oklahoma County Courthouse opened at 10 a.m. Monday. The slippery weather conditions didn't stop more than 250 people from showing up for jury duty.
That figure is about 100 less than usual, court officials said, but it was enough because only two trials got under way Monday. More could start today.
The Canadian County Courthouse in El Reno was also closed because of icy conditions, County Commissioner Phil Carson said.
"The roads are as slick as they can be. It's a clear ice and it's just plain ol' slick," he said.
Mike Dunn, 59, said he heard at least three tree limbs crack and crash to the ground Monday while walking his two German Shepherds in the Gatewood neighborhood.
"It was so loud, like a firecracker," he said. "Turns out, one of those things was mine."
During the 10-minute dog walk, a large tree in his front yard had split in two and fallen across his driveway.
"Looks like a banana peel," Dunn said of the split trunk.
Other fallen trees blocked neighborhood and arterial streets across the city.
Deanna Benson, 33, said she watched Monday as an ice-coated tree collapsed into the westbound lanes of NW 23 near Hudson Avenue. Motorists were driving on the sidewalk to avoid the fallen tree.
The storm knocked out power to Benson's neighborhood, so she said she "figured I should at least get out and watch all this. Ain't nothing else to do."
Beauty, damage in neighborhoods
Oklahoma City's historic neighborhoods were both beautiful and treacherous Monday after the ice storm transformed trees into glistening ice sculptures that periodically snapped and shattered.
"It sounds like a gun going off every time one of the big ones drops," said Ted Keeney, who lives at 615 NW 15 in the Heritage Hills neighborhood.
Loud pops echoed up and down the street every five minutes or so while Keeney examined a fallen limb and tried to figure out how to drag it from the street.
Just then, another loud pop resonated from his back yard.
"The pecan tree just fell," his wife shouted from the porch.
"We just moved in," Keeney said. "It's a wonderful neighborhood. I hope it's still standing tomorrow."
Fallen branches blocked several Heritage Hills and Mesta Park streets Monday. Neighbors would move some of them out of the way, only to have other limbs fall and take their place.
The street blockages created an ever-changing maze that was difficult for drivers to navigate.
"My wife left earlier for work and drove around about 5 minutes in the neighborhood just to find a way out," said Judd Schrader, 34, of 627 NW 16.
While the ice storm proved to be an aggravation for many, Tomasz Zieba, 35, and his wife, Joanna, 39, decided to take advantage of the situation.
Zieba posed in front of a beautiful ice-encrusted tree in Perle Mesta Park while her husband snapped her photograph.
"We are originally from Poland," he said.
"People there think we never get a winter here so we thought we'd take a picture and show them. Basically, we bought ourselves a new camera as a Christmas present so we're enjoying it."
How to get help
Natalie Scott with the American Red Cross of Central Oklahoma said those needing help should call 211, a community help line available to Oklahomans except those in the north-central and northwestern counties. The line is intended to be a central link between people in need and community services. Operators are there to direct people to the appropriate assistance. The help line also works with a volunteer center to collect items for those in need.