OKLAHOMA CITY – A massive storm that dropped sleet and freezing rain across the nation's midsection, leaving nearly a million utility customers without electricity, finally tapered off, but another wintry blast was forecast to develop Wednesday over the southern Plains.
The new system was expected to bring more sleet and freezing rain to Oklahoma, Missouri and Texas, but not nearly as much as the previous storm, according to the National Weather Service.
Ice ranging from a quarter-inch to an inch thick glazed roads in much of the central Plains and Midwest. At least 24 deaths have been blamed on the storm since it developed last weekend. Most resulted from traffic accidents.
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Forecasters said more snow, sleet and freezing rain could develop across the northern Ohio Valley and from Pennsylvania into New England on Wednesday.
The power outage was the worst ever in Oklahoma, with more than 618,000 homes and businesses without electricity late Tuesday. Officials said it could be a week to 10 days before power is fully restored.
"We're relying on people to look after each other," Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett said. "At the end of the day, this comes down to the strength of your people. ... People who have electricity ought to be sharing it with people who don't."
Elsewhere, nearly 350,000 customers were affected by outages in Missouri, Kansas, Iowa and Illinois.
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."
Most people decided to stay home and bundle up rather than go to shelters.
"We've got kerosene lamps and a fireplace," said Charita Miller of Oklahoma City. "We're OK. We can't watch TV. Oh well, you can't have everything. It's just me and my husband. My husband said, `there's food in the freezer."'
Sonya Kendrick, who spent Monday night at one of several American Red Cross shelters set up in Oklahoma City, said a tree ripped the electrical box off the side of her house, and she needed a warm place to take her three children until repairs could be made.
"When I got in here yesterday, I was totally distraught. I was like, 'Why me? Why me of all people?' I look at it this way, too: I'm not the only one," Kendrick said Tuesday. "There's other people here that I got to know in less than two days, literally. All of them have been through the same thing, and everybody here just understands everybody."
The storm also caused extensive travel problems. More than 550 flights were canceled at Chicago's O'Hare Airport on Tuesday, and hundreds of other flights were delayed up to an hour by nighttime, said Chicago Department of Aviation spokesman Gregg Cunningham.
Not everyone minded the winter weather.
Lynette Lamblez, an inventory controller from Waukesha, Wis., said her bus ride to work took 30 minutes longer Tuesday but she was grateful for the snowfall.
"Four weeks ago, it was 60 degrees out," she said. "I really think it's beautiful."
Officials in Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma had declared states of emergency. President Bush declared a federal emergency in Oklahoma on Tuesday, ordering government aid to supplement state and local efforts.
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.
Cold rain was forecast to fall over parts of Oklahoma on Wednesday, but temperatures were expected to remain above freezing, said Patrick Burke, a weather service meteorologist in Norman, Okla.
"It will still be cold and nasty outside and may slow efforts to restore power and remove tree limbs and such," he said.
High temperatures should reach the 40s on Thursday with no additional rainfall expected, Burke said. But by late Friday, another storm could bring 2 to 4 inches of snow to areas north of Interstate 44, he said.
The 24 deaths blamed on the weather include 15 in Oklahoma, four in Kansas, three in Missouri and one each in Nebraska and Michigan.