Thousands still without power after cold snap

Published 11:36 pm Saturday, December 2, 2006

housands of homes and businesses had no electricity for heat and lights Saturday after the Midwest’s first big snowstorm of the season.

The storm was blamed for at least 11 deaths as it cut a swath from Texas to Michigan and then blew through the Northeast late Friday and early Saturday. Schools and businesses were shuttered and hundreds of airline passengers had been stranded by canceled flights.

In Peoria, a nursing home roof collapsed into the building’s cafeteria on Friday night and four people were taken to a hospital, reportedly with cuts and bruises, said fire Division Chief Greg Walters.

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“The building administrator was there, and he heard a snap,” Walters said. “He started seeing a collapse and got people moving out of there. His attention to detail may have saved some lives.”

Cars and trucks slid off a 70-mile stretch of I-80 in northern Illinois, halting traffic, and state employees used snowmobiles to deliver sandwiches to stranded motorists, Illinois Department of Transportation spokesman Mike Claffey said.

Many areas of Illinois, Wisconsin and Missouri got more than a foot of snow, including 14.5 inches at Racine, Wis., and Chicago measured 6.2 inches. As far south as Oklahoma, Tulsa measured more than 10 inches.

Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt declared a state of emergency and sent the National Guard to the hardest hit areas. Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius declared a disaster emergency for 27 counties.

About 500,000 Ameren Corp. customers in Illinois and Missouri were still without power late Friday night after ice snapped power lines and tree limbs. Ron Zdellar, Ameren vice president, said it would be days before all customers had electricity again.

As the storm moved east, gusty wind blacked out more customers from Tennessee to New York. About 34,000 homes and businesses were still without power Saturday across upstate New State because of high wind in severe thunderstorms. More than 25,000 waited for power Saturday in Michigan. In Pennsylvania, more than 19,000 homes, mostly in the western part of the state, were without power Saturday morning, Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency spokesman Justin Fleming said.

Wind hit more than 50 mph in parts of Pennsylvania, and peaked at 67 mph in western New York state, according to the National Weather Service.

“There’s tons and tons of trees down everywhere” in New York’s Ulster County, south of Albany, said state police Trooper Steven Missale.

The wind blew the windows out and ripped down ceiling tiles at Mr. Z’s Food Mart in Mountain Top, Pa., and about a half-dozen people suffered minor injuries, fire officials said.

“The windows were shaking and they just exploded. Everybody was screaming,” said Food Mart cashier Breanne Ralston, 17.

The nasty weather caused problems for travelers all over the country. United Airlines canceled 914 flights nationwide as of Friday night, according to company spokeswoman Robin Urbanski. At Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, American Airlines canceled all its flights before noon Friday.

The combination of sleet, rain and snow also made travel on the ground treacherous. Oklahoma police urged people not to travel Friday night and early Saturday because snow melted Friday and then refroze during the night, forming a layer of ice on many roads.

Two women were killed in Pennsylvania, one by a falling tree and another by a wind-blown section of roof measuring about 25 feet by 30 feet, state and local officials said. Another falling tree landed on a house and killed one person in Ellenville, N.Y., about 100 miles north of New York City, authorities said.

Shoveling the heavy snow was linked to the deaths of two people in Wisconsin, a man described as older than 60 in Racine and a 70-year-old man in Fond du Lac.

In the St. Louis suburb of Affton, an 87-year-old woman died Friday in a house fire that started after an ice-laden tree limb fell on a power line, fire department officials said.

Near Paducah, Texas, a vehicle carrying a high school girls’ basketball team overturned on an icy highway, killing a 14-year-old player and injuring seven others.

On highways elsewhere, two storm-related deaths were reported Thursday in Missouri, another person died in Kansas on Wednesday and one was killed Thursday in Oklahoma.