Winter storm battering Northeast after hammering Midwest; death toll stands at 42

Published 7:53 pm Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Power lines were down, highways were treacherous and spring-like temperatures were only a memory Tuesday in parts of the Northeast in the wake of the storm that earlier had plastered the Midwest and Plains with a heavy shell of ice.

The death toll from the storm was at least 42 in seven states.

The weight of the ice snapped tree limbs, shorted out transformers and made power lines sag, knocking out current to about 145,000 customers in New York state and New Hampshire on Monday, though many got power restored during the night.

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Scores of schools canceled classes or opened late Tuesday in New Hampshire and upstate New York. And in Texas, where a lingering vestige of the storm system spread more sleet and snow Tuesday, schools were closed in Austin and San Antonio, along with Austin city offices and the University of Texas.

The storm had largely blown out of New England by Tuesday morning, leaving up 10 inches of snow in western Maine.

A wave of arctic air trailed the storm, dropping temperatures into the single digits as far south as Kansas and Missouri. The 7 a.m. temperature Tuesday at Kansas City, Mo., was just 2 degrees, while Bismarck, N.D., had a reading of 16 below zero, with a wind chill of 31 below, the National Weather Service reported.

Cold air also was moving into the East, where temperatures have been far above normal in recent weeks and the ground has been bare of snow. Instead of skiers, the unseasonable weather has drawn out golfers and bicyclists.

Icy roads cut into Martin Luther King Jr. holiday observances from Albany, N.Y., to Austin, Texas, where officials in both states canceled gubernatorial inauguration parades Tuesday.

By Tuesday, about half the blacked-out customers in New York were back on line, but more than 50,000 homes and businesses still had no service. Some might have to wait until Tuesday, the utility National Grid estimated.

In hard-hit Missouri, the utility company Ameren said it would probably not have everyone’s lights back on until Wednesday night. As of Tuesday morning, about 215,000 homes and businesses still had no electricity.

Missouri National Guardsmen have been going door to door, checking on residents and helped clear slick roads. Drury University, in Springfield, announced that its campuses would be closed until Jan. 22 because of fallen trees and a lack of power at some residence halls.

About 100,000 homes and businesses that were blacked out in Oklahoma, some of them since the storm’s first wave struck on Friday, were still waiting for power. Ice built up by sleet and freezing rain was 4 inches thick in places. The Army Corps of Engineers dispatched soldiers from Tulsa to deliver 100 emergency generators to the McAlester area.

More than 200,000 customers in Michigan also lost power because of ice and snow, and about 86,000 of them were still blacked out Tuesday.

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

In California, three nights of freezing temperatures have 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.