From staff and wire reports
President Bush has issued a major disaster declaration for seven Oklahoma counties that suffered serious ice storm damage, the governor’s office said Tuesday.
The finding clears the way for federal funds to reimburse state and local governments for storm cleanup and infrastructure repairs in the affected counties — Tulsa, Oklahoma, Pottawatomie, Wagoner, Cleveland, Lincoln and Mayes.
Gov. Brad Henry said state officials plan to ask for additional counties to be added to the disaster declaration as damage assessments are completed, hopefully by Friday.
Ottawa County has met the criteria for disaster declaration eligibility state Sen. Charles Wyrick said Tuesday.
“Hundreds of thousands of Oklahomans know all too well that the ice storm was of historic proportions,” Henry said. “Federal assistance is deserved and needed for numerous communities throughout our state and I am grateful to the president for his quick response.”
Henry said a request also will be made to provide assistance to individuals who suffered property losses. He said assessments of individuals’ damage are being made, but it is a lengthy process.
Statewide, about 36,467 homes and businesses are without electric service today, 11 days after freezing rain sent trees crashing into power lines across a wide area of central and eastern Oklahoma, including Miami.
More than 600,000 homes and businesses in the state were without power immediately after the storm. State officials are calling it the worst blackout in state history.
The state medical examiner’s office said the storm contributed to at least 27 deaths in the state, 16 in traffic accidents, eight in fires, two from carbon monoxide fumes and one from hypothermia.
“Oklahomans have faced incredible adversity these last two weeks,” Rep. John Sullivan, R-Okla., said. “This major disaster declaration is a big first step toward helping those in the hardest hit areas get back to normal life.”
The president had previously issued an emergency declaration for the entire state, allowing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to send aid to the state, including power generators, bottled water, cots, blankets and prepared meals.
Dozens of shelters, including one at the Assembly of God Church in Miami, were set up across the state to feed and house people whose homes were blacked out in freezing weather.
Henry has estimated damage from the storm will exceed $200 million.