Janesville69.9°

Killer winter storm moves toward East coast

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ROCHELLE HINES
December 13, 2007
— Wayne Wooldridge lasted only one cold, dark night in the frigid house he volunteered to watch for his son, who is deployed overseas for the U.S. Air Force.

“I can get bundled up pretty warm in the house, but there was no light at night,” Wooldridge, 68, said Wednesday at a shelter. “We get spoiled.”


Wooldridge was among the hundreds of thousands of people whose homes or businesses remained without electricity after a three-day storm pummeled the nation’s midsection, causing downed power lines, icy roads and at least 33 deaths.


“This was a storm of absolute historic proportions, certainly in terms of damage and the number of power outages across the state,” said Gov. Brad Henry, as he toured an upscale, historic neighborhood in northwest Oklahoma City where debris from trees felled by the ice littered lawns and roadways.


Brian Korty, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Camp Springs, Md., said the storm should begin hitting the East Coast on Thursday and some areas could receive as much as a foot of snow.


“Our main concern now in the next day or so is as this storm that’s affecting the Midwest comes eastward, it’s going to start producing a lot of significant winter weather across the Northeastern portions of the nation,” Korty said.


Sunshine and milder temperatures on Thursday should help clean up efforts in much of the Plains, but another winter storm approaching from the west could dump heavy snow on parts of Oklahoma on Friday.


Iowa Gov. Chet Culver has declared disaster areas in five counties. In southern Iowa’s Wayne County, where power was out for much of the region, officials set up six shelters, said Bill Yeager, emergency management coordinator.


“We’re transporting people almost continuously right now,” Yeager said. “In the rural areas, we’ve had the power companies tell us it’ll be from three, to five, to seven days before we get it restored.”


Hillary Rodham Clinton, campaigning in Iowa, was stranded in the Midwest and could not make a New Jersey fundraiser. She had her husband substitute.


Oklahoma’s utility crews have made steady progress restoring power, whittling the number of customers without service from about 600,000 to approximately 414,000 by late Wednesday.


More than two dozen shelters were set up at churches and community centers across the state for people needing a warm place to stay. Exhibit halls at the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City were turned into a shelter Wednesday capable of housing more than 700 people.


Stella Elam, who lives with her daughter near the state Capitol, hadn’t had electricity since Sunday night. She purchased plenty of batteries, candles and lanterns before the storm, and food in her refrigerator lasted until Tuesday.


“I’ve lived here practically all my life. As I was driving to the store, I was looking at how much stuff is on the ground. It reminds you of a hurricane coming through,” she said.


Industrial-size generators, bottled water, plastic sheeting to cover 2,000 damaged roofs, and blankets arrived via the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which was authorized by President Bush’s emergency disaster declaration to help all 77 Oklahoma counties clean up.


In downtown Oklahoma City, Billy Weaver, a 45-year-old homeless man, escaped the cold at the City Rescue Mission. Weaver said he’s only had a quilt to wrap around himself to fend off the cold.


“I don’t know what I’d do if we didn’t have a shelter to go to,” he said.


At the John 3:16 Mission in Tulsa, a lottery is held each day to determine who gets a bed, and the facility is scrambling every bed, mattress and bench it has to accommodate people, said The Rev. Steve Whitaker, executive director at the mission.


“It’s gut-wrenching to turn those guys away,” he said.


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Associated Press writers Nafeesa Syeed in Des Moines, Iowa, and Sofia Mannos in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.



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