Plains states eye new winter storm

/ Source: The Associated Press

Utility crews have managed to whittle the number of Oklahoma homes and businesses without electricity down to just under 9,800, but an approaching winter storm could impede their progress.

Abundant sunshine and temperatures in the 30s and 40s helped power company employees restore light and heat to all but about 9,790 customers as of Tuesday, less than a tenth of the estimated 125,000 customers who initially lost service.

A winter storm brewing over northern Mexico is forecast to move into Oklahoma and North Texas by Friday afternoon and possibly bring rain and snow, according to the National Weather Service.

This storm, however, isn't expected to dump much precipitation and should exit the area by Saturday afternoon, forecasters said.

Second-grade teacher Judy Starkey, whose northeast Oklahoma residence has been without power for 11 days, has heard several estimates of when her electricity would be back on, but nothing definite.

"Right now, they're saying maybe tomorrow (Wednesday)," said Starkey, 43, who lives near Peggs.

So far, she's out at least $1,000 for a generator, gasoline to run it, takeout meals and one night in a motel when things got too unbearable.

Sid Sperry, a spokesman for the Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives, said that number should decline even more on Wednesday.

"It's coming down by the thousands each and every day."

Three days of freezing rain coated roads, bridges, parking lots, trees and power lines with ice beginning Jan. 12. Below-freezing temperatures have slowed recovery from the storm, which arrived not long after a winter storm paralyzed the Oklahoma Panhandle and dumped several inches of snow on other parts. Another storm last weekend blanketed northwestern Oklahoma with up to 8 inches of snow in some parts.

The Oklahoma Office of the Chief Medical Examiner and the Oklahoma Highway Patrol report 32 deaths because of the ice storm. Highway collisions took 19 lives, eight people died of hypothermia, two from smoke inhalation and three from falls.

Troopers reported nearly 500 collisions on Oklahoma roads since Jan. 12, and 3,919 people have been treated at Oklahoma hospitals for various injuries related to the weather, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Health.