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Ice storm continues to disrupt school, flights in the Midwest

December 12, 2007|From the Associated Press

DES MOINES — A thick glaze of ice brought down power lines and cut electricity to at least a million homes and businesses, closed schools and canceled flights Tuesday as a major storm continued to blast the nation's midsection.

Officials in Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma declared states of emergency. President Bush declared an emergency in Oklahoma on Tuesday, ordering federal aid to supplement state and local response efforts.

At least 24 deaths have been blamed on the storm system since the sleet and freezing started during the weekend. Ice-covered roads contributed to many of the deaths. Downed power lines caused dozens of fires in Oklahoma.

And then there was the problem of staying warm; officials cautioned that electricity may not be restored for days, if not weeks.

Lesley Owczarski, owner of Big Apple Bagels in Ottumwa, Iowa, said the power was on at her shop, but many of her customers weren't so lucky.

"Most of the places don't have power so a lot of people have been coming to the bagel shop," she said. "If they can come in and get warm and have a hot coffee and a latte, why not? I can understand it's boring sitting at home."

The storm also caused extensive travel problems. About 560 flights were canceled at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, and hundreds of other flights were severely delayed.

Across most of Oklahoma, schools were closed for a second day. Classes were also canceled in Kansas, Iowa and Wisconsin, including the Milwaukee district, with 85,000 students.

Tulsa and Oklahoma City each had more than 100 reports of fires since the storm began, mostly from tree limbs crashing into live power lines, authorities said.

Until Tuesday, the volunteer fire department in the small Kansas town of Durham had gone on just two fire runs all year. Within hours, the department rushed to the scene of three weather-related electrical fires.

"I don't know as we've ever run that many fires," said Fire Chief Pete Sommerfeld, who, like others in his town of 110, was without power.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency rushed 50 industrial generators to Oklahoma for hospitals, water-treatment plants and emergency shelters, and 50 more were on the way. FEMA was also providing blankets, cots and pre-packaged meals.

Most people decided to stay home and bundle up rather than go to shelters.

Eva Mowry and her mother, Madeline Lee, were among dozens of people waiting in line at a Home Depot store in Oklahoma City that was operating on backup power provided by a generator.

A sign in front of the store read: "No generators, ice melt, scrapers, lamp oil, firewood, kerosene heaters, chainsaws."

The two women stocked up on flashlights, batteries and starter logs for the fireplace.

"This is our first ice storm," Lee said. "I don't like it."

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