A winter storm that knocked out power to more than 150,000 homes and businesses and stranded travelers across Oklahoma was responsible for the death of a 70-year-old woman in a propane explosion, officials said Friday.
The woman and her husband had apparently been using propane heaters to warm their house in Ada after the storm disrupted their electric service, Assistant Fire Chief Robby Johnson said. The woman, who was not identified, died and her husband was injured when a propane tank exploded Friday morning.
Nearly 151,000 customers were without power Friday evening, including more than 60,000 in southwestern Oklahoma, down from 179,000, the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management said.
The outages were caused by a massive storm that left up to a half-inch of ice on trees and power lines and about a foot of snow in northwestern Oklahoma and the northern Texas Panhandle. Snow fell in eastern and central Oklahoma on Friday as the storm plowed east. Forecasters expected heavy snow in northern Tennessee near the Kentucky and Virginia borders and western North Carolina.
The National Weather Service estimated the storm dumped 8 to 10 inches of snow in Garfield County near Enid; 5 to 8 inches in the Norman area; and 4 to 6 inches around Oklahoma City.
Gov. Brad Henry requested a federal disaster declaration for all 77 Oklahoma counties Friday after declaring statewide emergency Wednesday.
Gwendolyn Wright’s home in Granite lost power Wednesday as the storm blew in, and after spending a night without power or heat, Wright, her son, mother and brother sought shelter at the Church of the New Beginnings, a non-denominational church in Greer County in southwestern Oklahoma. They slept on cots in a room where Sunday school is normally taught and ate food prepared by the church.
Wright said she had nothing to complain about.
“The people are real nice,” she said Friday. “I really like it here.” Harvey Moore, a reserve deputy and member of the church, said he wasn’t sure how long Wright and others would remain there but that the church would shelter them “as long as we need.”
“They’re all hoping to get back home pretty quick," he added.
He said streets were slushy, but motorists could get around.
Stan Whiteford of Public Service Company of Oklahoma, which serves the southwestern part of the state, said it would be two or three days before power was fully restored to the region.
Many of the power outages appeared to be due to transmission lines toppled by the storm, Whiteford said, adding that the storm had prevented them from flying over the area to fully assess the damage.
Travel slowed or stopped in parts of the state.
A 30-mile stretch of Interstate 44 between Oklahoma City and Lawton was closed after slick conditions forced tractor-trailers to stop in the road.
Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City, the state’s largest, closed due to heavy snowfall and poor visibility.
The storm was good for business at the Days Inn and Suites in Guymon, where stranded travelers waited for road crews to clear U.S. Highway 54 of ice and snow, employee Rocky Bhagavan said.
Sixteen of the hotel’s 35 rooms were occupied at the motel in the Oklahoma Panhandle.
On a typical day, only about half that many are rented, he said.
“Most of the travelers decided to leave this morning. As soon as they got to the Texas border they had to come back,” Bhagavan said.
Heide Brandes, spokeswoman for the Salvation Army in Oklahoma City, said the organization’s men’s shelter has been full since the slow-moving storm moved into the area Thursday.
She said some of the 90 men in the shelter are homeless and sought relief when temperatures dropped to the mid-20s.
The Salvation Army also was providing shelter for a California family stranded by the storm along with their therapy dog.
Brandes said the Red Cross contacted her agency about the family when they couldn’t find a place that would accept the dog.
“Normally we don’t allow dogs in the shelter,” she said. “But, you know, service dogs are an exception.”