McALESTER, Okla. (AP) - Gov. Brad Henry planned to visit two eastern Oklahoma cities today that are struggling to recover in the aftermath of an ice storm that began Friday.
Henry will visit McAlester, where almost 14,000 customers in a city of 18,000 people remained without electrical service late Tuesday, and Grove, where about 3,500 customers still lack power.
Statewide, about 91,700 people did not have power as of late Tuesday, said Oklahoma Emergency Management spokeswoman Michelann Ooten.
Henry will take aerial and ground tours of the hard-hit areas, said his spokesman, Paul Sund.
“I want to see the damage firsthand and make sure we are doing everything possible to help the people there,” Henry said. “Oklahomans and their families have been through a lot, and we need to take care of them.”
The three-day ice storm has contributed to at least 20 deaths and wreaked havoc with the state's power system. No place in Oklahoma has been harder hit than McAlester.
On Tuesday, power lines were drooping under a thick, icy casing. The crushing weight of ice snapped 100-year-old trees. A small army of workers cut away fallen trees, fixed downed power lines and replaced broken power poles.
Power was restored Tuesday at Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, which had been relying on a back-up generator. McAlester Regional Medical Center remained on generator power.
Tara Guzman, 38, who moved to McAlester from the San Francisco Bay area two years ago, said she and her family came to a shelter at the First Baptist Church on Monday, after shivering through three days in a cold home.
“We're tough, we lasted from when the power went out until yesterday,” she said. “We brought mattresses out in the living room and cuddled.”
Oklahoma Disaster Relief Feeding Units, sponsored by the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, are stationed in McAlester and Muskogee. Sam Porter, the convention's disaster relief director, said it was anticipated that the units would serve 30,000 hot meals a day.
“We will stay at each location until power is restored to every community,” Porter said.
Many people left McAlester to seek shelter with friends, relatives or hotels that have power, but some hardy residents remained.
“This is one of those situations where you're going to have to grin and bear with it,” said Adrian Wilson, 65, as he sat in his Buick Skylark, reading the owner's manual for a chainsaw he just bought.
“I can read better out here than in the house,” Wilson said as munched on chips and salsa, his cocker spaniel sitting on the passenger seat.
Josh and B.J. Medley, also elected to stay home. They have electrical generators, a gas stove and propane heaters. B.J. Medley has a $100 worth of groceries cooling on her front porch.
Her only complaint:
“It's hard to keep milk, because milk freezes and goes bad.”
Five possible hypothermia deaths were being investigated in Oklahoma City, Chickasha, Tulsa, Delaware County and Logan County, Kevin Rowland, chief investigator for the state Medical Examiner's office said Tuesday. A civilian worker at Altus Air Force Base died when he slipped and hit his head as he knocked ice off an airplane.
Fourteen motorists have died in accidents on slick roadways.
Seven of the traffic accident deaths occurred when a minivan carrying 12 people slid off an icy highway early Sunday and hit an oncoming truck just east of Elk City. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said passengers in the van were illegal immigrants being smuggled to North Carolina.
Many schools were closed across the state.
The hardest hit areas were in the eastern half of Oklahoma where repair crews were working to restore power to about 27,000 Public Service Company of Oklahoma customers.
“We have over a thousand people in the field in different areas around the state working around the clock to get power restored,” company spokesman Stan Whiteford said.
“A lot of areas will be wrapped up in the next day or so, however, some customers in the most rural and isolated areas may be into next week before we get them taken care of.”
“There are a lot of places where virtually everything is destroyed. In some cases, entire electric services will have to be rebuilt.”
Oklahoma Gas and Electric reported 15,548 outages, including 9,156 customers in Muskogee.
Another 48,820 rural electric cooperative customers were without power, said Sid Sperry, spokesman for the Association of Electric Cooperatives. He said nearly 2,000 power poles were broken.
“Unfortunately in some areas, the damage is so extensive, it's going to take some time to get consumers back on,” he said. “I saw a photo of a susbstation in northeast Oklahoma and it looks like a tornado hit it. The ice damage to the steel structure is unbelievable.”
Subfreezing temperatures were expected to continue with little sunshine to aid in melting the ice, said meteorologist Kevin Brown with the National Weather Service in Norman.
“We're going to see a little bit of melting, the sun will be peeking through,” he said. “Because we're staying so cold, with what melting we do get there is not going to be a lot of evaporation, so what melts will be refreezing at night.”
“But once we get into Thursday and Friday we might see a little more sunshine and a fair amount of melting,” Brown said.
Late Sunday, President Bush approved Oklahoma's request for a federal emergency disaster declaration, which allows for federal reimbursement of 75 percent for emergency protective measures by local and state personnel.
Federal resources, including generators and bottled water, started arriving Monday, Ooten said.
Many main highways were clear, while surface roads were still icy and slushy.