KANSAS CITY, Missouri (Reuters) - Sleet and freezing rain blanketed much of the central United States with a thick coating of ice on Tuesday, killing more than a dozen people and knocking out power to nearly a million homes and businesses.
The ice storm set in on Sunday and little relief from the wintry mess was in sight, as the National Weather Service predicted another icy blast later on Tuesday.
Oklahoma was hit the hardest. About 592,000 customers there lost electricity service, including more than 200,000 in Oklahoma City alone, according to the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management. At least 12 people died in storm-related accidents and one man died of exposure to the cold.
The power outages paralyzed parts of the most important U.S. oil hub, threatening supplies to the region’s oil refineries, although industry sources said the area’s refiners were still operating normally.
President George W. Bush issued an emergency declaration for the state, giving local governments in Oklahoma access to federal resources.
Residents described harrowing traffic pileups on ice-slick roadways, streets littered with downed trees, whole neighborhoods gone dark, and the persistent popping sounds of tree limbs breaking under the weight of ice.
“We don’t have any heat. No lights. Nothing. We have nothing at all,” said Kathy Nash, a 30-year-old advertising executive whose home lost power on Monday.
She and her husband had been making do with flashlights and candles and layers of warm clothes. “It’s cold,” she added.
In Missouri, icy conditions left 170,000 without power, according to Susie Stonner, spokeswoman for the state Emergency Management Agency. The state had one traffic death due to the storm, she said.
“The tree debris with the icing is causing a lot of problems,” said Stonner. “The power companies keep working to fix the lines and restore power but then the trees coming crashing down again.”
In Kansas, 90,000 homes and businesses were without power as up to a half-inch of ice blanketed most of the state. The Kansas National Guard delivered generators to nursing homes and sewage treatment centers lacking electricity, Kansas Division of Emergency Management spokeswoman Sharon Watson said.
In the tiny town of Larned, Kansas, many of the 4,000 residents’ homes were damaged by falling trees.
“It is a pretty ugly sight right now. It looks like a tornado passed through,” said Jason Murray, who helps manage a cattle feeding operation there.
The National Weather Service said significant accumulations of ice were expected through Tuesday as a cold air mass remained stalled over Kansas into central and northern Missouri.
Reporting by Ben Fenwick in Oklahoma City, Carey Gillam in Kansas City, and Bob Burgdorfer in Chicago, editing by Patricia Zengerle