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Ice Storm Leaves South Without Power

December 30, 2000

DIERKS, Ark. (AP) _ Tens of thousands of people shivered without heat again Friday, nearly a week after a Christmas ice storm devastated parts of Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas.

From 750,000 to as many as 1 million people _ at least a quarter of the state’s population _ lost power after the storm, Gov. Mike Huckabee said as he looked at street after street littered with splintered, ice-caked trees. Approximately 135,000 homes and businesses remained in the dark Friday.

``We’ve never had a storm like this,″ Huckabee said. ``I’m using words like apocalyptic and cataclysmic.″

Some communities have been without power, water and sewer service for days. In Dierks, residents like Brandon Janes hoped to have a generator running soon for the sewer and water systems.

``We’ll cross our fingers and pray real hard,″ he said.

Mount Ida firefighter Jorgen Horrisberger told the governor that roads were covered with tree limbs and impassable: ``It looks like a nuclear holocaust.″

President Clinton declared parts of the state a disaster Friday, allowing financial aid to reach thousands of individual property owners, instead of just local governments.

Even with the promise of federal aid, Oklahoma emergency officials urged thousands of people left without power and facing another icy blast to turn to each other for help.

An estimated 104,000 people statewide remained without power Friday, and some areas weren’t expected to get service restored for five to 10 days. Gov. Frank Keating has declared all 77 counties a disaster area.

``We do know there are people who are still in the cold and still in the dark,″ said Michelann Ooten, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Civil Emergency Management. ``If you know someone who doesn’t have power don’t assume they know where the shelter is.″

Beatrice Sam and her 91-year-old husband, John, toughed it out in their cold McAlester, Okla., home for four days before they finally got a ride to a local Red Cross shelter.

John Sam got out of the hospital a week ago after suffering a heart attack. The Sams managed to stay warm by piling on four blankets, a thick bedspread and quilt.

Mrs. Sam said that when they got up to go to the bathroom, they’d crawl back in bed and shiver until they got warm.

``I probably could have toughed it out, but he can’t,″ Mrs. Sam said. ``Some people are still out there toughing it out.″

Federal officials have shipped 13 generators to southeastern Oklahoma to provide power to water plants, hospitals and other essential services.

In Texas, Mary Jones was among about 45,000 customers still waiting for electricity Friday, five days after a winter storm hit the state. Some 18,000 were in Texarkana, which straddles the Arkansas-Texas line.

``I got the burners on the kitchen cook stove on. That’s how we’re surviving,″ Jones said from her DeKalb home. The lights went out just after her family of five finished Christmas Day lunch.

Ice coated trees and downed power lines, knocking out service in northeast Texas. In the Texas Panhandle, 20 inches of snow fell on top of ice, sending cars and trucks spinning out of control.

At least 40 deaths were blamed on the bad weather, including 22 in Texas and 11 in Oklahoma.

Thomas Johnson, who lives 15 miles south of Amarillo, said he stocked up on groceries Sunday before the storm. He said he and his 11-year-old son Cody have been outside having snowball fights ever since.

``We live in the country and the roads are still iced up,″ he said.

The icy, chilly weather wasn’t bothering Ruby Sewell of Ridgeland, Miss., on Friday. She opened her latest natural gas bill to find it had more than doubled.

``Something’s not right,″ Sewell said.

Across the nation, people who depend on natural gas and propane as a source of heat are struggling with skyrocketing prices following a decline in supply and a sharp rise in demand.

Mississippi Valley Gas Co., which serves about 250,000 people, has been receiving thousands of calls a week from people complaining about their bills.

``People take one look at their bills and they’re shocked,″ said the company’s Phil Hardwick. ``They don’t know it yet but it’s going to get worse in January. It’s a real happy New Year’s story.″

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