Power Slowly Returns As Crews Repair Lines Snapped in Midwest Ice Storm

Lights came back on for some lucky people Wednesday as utility crews struggled to repair power lines snapped by the ice storm that had blacked out as much as a million homes and businesses across the nation's midsection.

Repair crews and homeowners still faced a mixture of snow, sleet and light rain that fell across parts of north Texas and central Oklahoma during the morning.

"It will still be cold and nasty outside and may slow efforts to restore power and remove tree limbs and such," said Patrick Burke, a weather service meteorologist in Norman, Okla.

Sunshine was possible in hard-hit Oklahoma during the afternoon and temperatures could reach the 40s Thursday, the weather service said. By late Friday, however, another storm could bring 2 to 4 inches of snow to parts of the region.

Ice up to 1 1/2 inches thick has glazed much of the central Plains and Midwest this week. At least 27 deaths — mostly traffic accidents — have been blamed on the storm system since it developed last weekend.

Outside that affected area, forecasters said more snow, sleet and freezing rain could develop Wednesday across the northern Ohio Valley and into New England.

About 468,000 homes and business still had no power Wednesday in Oklahoma, suffering its worst power outage on record. That was down from a peak of some 618,000 customers Tuesday, but utility 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, around 228,000 customers were still blacked out in Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, Illinois and Nebraska. Kansas' tally had risen sharply — to 130,000 on Wednesday from Tuesday's 15,000 — as rural electric cooperatives reported in and falling branches brought down more power lines.

"We have a lot of trees down ... lots of infrastructure that needs to be put up," said Al Butkus, a spokesman for the utility Aquila Inc. in Missouri. "This is not going to be quick."

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 for her three children.

"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."

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.

The 27 deaths blamed on the weather include 16 in Oklahoma, four in Kansas, three each in Missouri and Michigan and one in Nebraska.