Governor tours ice-ravaged McAlestergreenspun.com : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread
Keating tours ice-ravaged McAlester
12/29/2000 By Danny Boyd Associated Press Writer
McALESTER — Even with promises of state and federal aid, emergency officials urged thousands of southeast Oklahomans left without power and facing the next icy blast to turn to each other Friday.
Crews worked round the clock to repair damaged lines, but electric company officials warned that some southeast Oklahoma residents might be without power through next week.
“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.
“We’re hoping that once Oklahomans again are proving the best neighbors. If you know someone who doesn’t have power don’t assume they know where the shelter is,” she said.
She urged southeast Oklahoma residents to check on neighbors and offer them rides to shelters if needed. Beatrice Sam and her 91-year-old husband, John, toughed it out in their cold McAlester 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.”
She busied herself Friday by helping out other elderly residents taking refuge in a shelter that houses school offices, museums and the Red Cross chapter for southeastern Oklahoma.
While some residents evacuated to shelters, others stayed home and tried to cope with the aftermath of a winter storm that felled trees from one horizon to the other and coated the landscape in frigid crystal.
Gov. Frank Keating toured the McAlester area by helicopter Friday and said he was awed by the damage wrought by a winter storm that caused at least 12 deaths and shut off electricity and water to thousands.
“It looked like a whole series of weeping willows bowed over with ice,” Keating said after the surveying the damage with his wife, Maj. Gen. Steven Cortright of the Oklahoma National Guard and state emergency management director Albert Ashwood.
Residents in the city of more than 16,000 have been without electricity and water intermittently since Tuesday, although about half the city had power Friday.
Keating said the geographical scope of the disaster was unprecedented in Oklahoma and praised volunteers for their efforts as he toured a Red Cross shelter and spoke with residents.
An estimated 120,000 Oklahomans remained without power Friday morning, including about 60,000 who are served by rural electric cooperatives. Southwestern Bell Telephone also reported 1,400 subscribers without service.
Crews worked through the night to restore service to about 3,000 customers mostly in the Talihina and McAlester areas. About 22,000 AEP-PSO customers remained without power Friday, spokesman Stan Whiteford said.
“If we can keep from having any more transmission outages, we should be able to continue making progress,” Whiteford said.
He expected power to be restored to small towns, including Atoka and Wright City, by Friday. But parts of McAlester likely will be without power the next 5 to 10 days.
“Those estimates are based on current resources and nothing else bad happening,” he said.
Whiteford said the heavy accumulation of ice and saturated ground had caused massive problems. One transmission tower outside of McAlester became so heavy in the storm that is anchors pulled from the ground.
“We had a domino effect and lost 14 structures,” Whiteford said.
Mayor Dale Covington declared a dusk-til-dawn curfew after the power went out. Water service, knocked out when the city lost power, was restored early Friday.
“There’s still some shortages south of town, but the water is still running,” Covington said.
Mike Taylor, 39, said he and his wife, Lisa, 39, and his stepson hitchhiked into McAlester on Tuesday after the power in their house went out.
“We cook and everything on electric and we live in the country, so it’s even worse out there,” Taylor said. His wife suffers from asthma and sometimes relies on a machine to help her breath, said Taylor, who walks with the help of a cane.
Billie Cathey, executive director of the Red Cross chapter in southeastern Oklahoma, said many residents, including the elderly, leave home reluctantly.
“People don’t leave their homes easily. They will be cold and in the dark before they do anything else,” she said.
The deaths of 11 people, including three children, are being blamed on the storm. Another person died this week because of the outages, said McAlester City Manager Randy Green.
President Clinton declared an emergency in the state on Thursday and ordered federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts. Keating earlier in the week declared the state’s 77 counties a disaster area.
Ashwood said 22,000 gallons of bottled water was being shipped from Atlanta to the McAlester National Guard Armory, which would be a distribution point. Clinton’s declaration allowed the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate all disaster relief efforts in the region blasted by the storm, including the southeast quandrant of the state bounded by Interstate 35 on the west and Interstate 40 on the north.
Ashwood said FEMA had shipped 13 giant generators from Fort Worth, Texas, to provide power to water plants, hospitals and other essential services.
He said it was too early to have an estimate of the damages.
-- robert waldrop (email@example.com), December 29, 2000