Thousands shiver as US ice storm kills 54

Updated: 2007-01-17 13:32

BUFFALO, Mo. - Shoppers were reduced to picking up supplies by flashlight Tuesday in the few places open in this town of 2,800, as the death toll from a winter storm grew to 54 in nine states.

A pedestrian walks underneath ice-covered power lines near downtown McAlester, Okla., Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2007.
A pedestrian walks underneath ice-covered power lines near downtown McAlester, Okla., Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2007. [AP]

Three shelters in Buffalo - about 35 miles north of Springfield in hard-hit Missouri - housed nearly a tenth of its population Monday night, and officials said power might not be restored until next week.

The town lost all its power by Saturday. Water towers ran dry Sunday, and water service was restored only late Monday, after the National Guard hooked a generator up to a pumping station.

"There are no services," Buffalo Mayor Jerry Hardesty said. "I've talked to residents who have lived here 50 years, and nobody can remember it ever being this bad."

About 400,000 homes and businesses in several states were still without electricity Tuesday after a storm that brought ice, snow, flooding and high winds to a swath of the country from Texas to Maine.

The storm had largely blown out of New England by Tuesday, but forecasters expected more freezing rain to hit parts of Texas, perhaps even Houston, on Wednesday night, said Dennis Cook of the National Weather Service. Gusty winds were forecast to make the Northeast bone-chilling cold through Wednesday night before warming Thursday.

At the First Baptist Church in McAlester, Okla., where most of the city's 18,000 residents have lacked power for four days, 47 residents huddled under blankets and in front of space heaters.

"If it wasn't for the shelter, I don't know where we'd be," said Tara Guzman, 38, playing board games with her four children. "We're tough; we lasted when the power went out until (Monday). We brought mattresses out in the living room and cuddled."

Subfreezing temperatures were expected to continue in the state, with little sunshine to aid in melting the ice until Thursday or Friday, said National Weather Service meteorologist Kevin Brown.

Some of the 92,000 Oklahoma homes and businesses without power might not have it restored until next week, utility company spokesman said.

"There are a lot of places where virtually everything is destroyed," Public Service Company of Oklahoma spokesman Stan Whiteford said. "In some cases, entire electric services will have to be rebuilt."

Texas Gov. Rick Perry moved his inauguration ceremony indoors for the first time in five decades.

In Missouri, the utility company Ameren said it would probably not have everyone's lights back on until Wednesday night. As of Tuesday, about 210,000 homes and businesses still had no electricity.

The White House said Tuesday that 34 Missouri counties and St. Louis had been declared a major disaster area, making federal funding available. A similar federal disaster declaration was approved Sunday for Oklahoma.

More than 200,000 customers in Michigan also lost power at some point, and tens of thousands were still blacked out Tuesday. Many customers were also without power in central and western New York, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

Waves of freezing rain, sleet and snow since Friday had been blamed for at least 17 deaths in Oklahoma, nine in Missouri, eight in Iowa, four in New York, five in Texas, three in Michigan, three in Arkansas, and one each in Maine and Indiana.

Elsewhere, Washington state's Puget Sound area, known for drizzle rather than its recent freezing weather, was hit by another round of snow Tuesday, snarling traffic and closing schools for more than 380,000 students. The Oregon Legislature delayed hearings and sessions until afternoon because of the weather.

In California, three nights of freezing weather had destroyed up to three-quarters of the state's $1 billion citrus crop, according to an estimate issued Monday. Other crops, including avocados and strawberries, also suffered damage.

"This is one of those freezes that, unfortunately, we'll all remember," said A.G. Kawamura, secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

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