Ice Storms Cripple the Midwest

Hundreds of thousands of Midwesterners are without power following a weekend of severe ice storms. Authorities blame the conditions for more than a dozen deaths. The governors of Oklahoma and Missouri have declared states of emergency.

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Hundreds of thousands of Midwesterners are without power, following a weekend of severe winter weather. Authorities blamed the conditions for more than a dozen deaths. The governors of Oklahoma and Missouri have declared states of emergency. And we have a report this morning from Matt Sepic of member station KWMU in St. Louis.

MATT SEPIC: The nasty weather started Thursday night when a cold front began creeping across the Midwest - from Texas on up to Illinois. It wasn't the bone-chilling Siberian kind of cold, but it mixed with a lot of rain to create a thick coat of ice. At the National Weather Service in St. Louis, meteorologist Jim Kramper says when temperatures flirt with freezing, things can get dangerous quickly.

Mr. JIM KRAMPER (Meteorologist, National Weather Service, St. Louis): We needed ice accumulating on object - it doesn't really take that much to cause a lot of weight. People don't realize how much a quarter of inch of ice on every tree limb - what they can do to the tree. It can cause the whole tree to fall over, large branches break.

SEPIC: That's exactly what happened to over much of Oklahoma. On Friday, Governor Brad Henry declared a state of emergency for all 77 counties. Seven people were killed in Elk City yesterday morning when their minivan skidded into an oncoming semi-truck.

In McAlester, a town in eastern Oklahoma, Jeanne Louis(ph) says most of her 20,000 fellow citizens are beginning their third day without electricity. She says the ice-covered trees looked pretty, but they're making roads impossible and wreaking havoc on power lines.

Ms. JEANNE LOUIS: Everything has a large coating of ice and, of course, the limbs are bent and many are breaking now. There's much beauty, but it's sad because the trees are suffering terribly.

SEPIC: To the northeast, people in Springfield, Missouri are dealing with the same problems. About 150 National Guard troops are there to help with debris clean up. Springfield public information director, Louise Whall, says about two-thirds of the city was without power yesterday afternoon as the community braced for another bout of freezing rain.

Ms. LOUISE WHALL (Public Information Director): That's very precarious. There's just trees and limbs down all over town. It's hanging low. If anything, they have only gotten worse.

SEPIC: Three hours away in suburban St. Louis, for many people, it's been a rerun of a bad episode. An ice storm here six weeks ago knocked down power to a fifth of the metropolitan area. This time, however, the altitudes are not nearly as widespread. Tim Fox with the power utility Ameren says the company called then extra linemen before the storm hit.

Mr. TIM FOX (Spokesman, Power Utility Ameren): We have people coming in from Tennessee, from Illinois, from Indiana, from Michigan. We'll have about 2,500 linemen out, and those linemen are coming in from multiple states surrounding the area.

SEPIC: Forecasters, from Tulsa to St. Louis, are predicting temperatures in the teens and single digits for most of the coming week, meaning the ice is not likely to melt soon. Brisk winds are also in the forecast and officials worry many more trees and power lines could fall.

For NPR News, I'm Matt Sepic in St. Louis.

INSKEEP: And just so, you know, that that weather front is headed east. Parts of Ohio may get freezing rain today. Lower Michigan and parts of New England could get more than a foot of snow. At the same time, an icy drizzle has slickened roadways in Texas and 400 flights were cancelled yesterday at Dallas, Fortworth International Airport. Even more are being cancelled today.

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