Icy weather hits Mo.; state of emergency declared

Sunday, January 14, 2007
Icicles hung from a street sign Saturday in Springfield, Mo. An overnight ice storm downed trees and power lines, leaving many in the city without power. (Mark Schiefelbein ~ Associated Press)

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- A crippling winter storm lashed Missouri with another blast of freezing rain, sleet and snow Saturday, causing widespread power outages from St. Louis to Springfield and leading Gov. Matt Blunt to declare a state of emergency.

The storm was blamed for at least four deaths, and brought Amtrak service in Missouri to a halt Saturday. Trees and other debris knocked down by the weight of ice blocked tracks at several locations between St. Louis and Kansas City. Several flights were canceled out of the Kansas City and St. Louis airports Saturday.

The storm was expected to continue through the weekend, laying down a coat of ice and snow from Texas to Illinois, where an ice storm warning was in effect through Monday morning.

"This is a prolonged, major winter storm," said Andy Foster, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Springfield. "The first wave came through Friday, the second, smaller wave is what hit us today and we will get more freezing rain and sleet Sunday."

Conditions were forecast to worsen today, with colder temperatures, more freezing rain and winds picking up. That could spell more branches and trees crashing down on power lines, homes and roads, said Jenny Fillmer Edwards, spokeswoman for the Springfield-Greene County Office of Emergency Management.

Blunt declared a state of emergency Saturday for the state and activated the National Guard. He also put the Disaster Medical Assistance Team on standby.

"Tomorrow's storm is suspected to be the worst of three waves we have to deal with and the temperatures are forecast to fall. It's going to make it more difficult for communities to recover," Blunt said.

"This is definitely a crisis," Blunt told reporters in his southwest Missouri hometown of Springfield, where more than half of the households were without power.

Blunt confirmed storm-related deaths so far numbered four, including three traffic fatalities and a death from carbon monoxide poisoning in Lawrence County.

About 111,000 homes and businesses had no electricity Saturday in the St. Louis area.

"We have hundreds of crews. We kept them working all night long," said Susan Gallagher, a spokeswoman for the utility Ameren. "Like everyone, we don't know what the extent of damage will be with the arrival of more ice."

About 60,000 to 70,000 customers were without power in Springfield, Mo., Saturday, where City Utilities has about 100,000 customers total, a utility spokesman said.

Smaller outlaying communities in southwest Missouri lost power to as many as 90 percent or more of customers, Greene County's Edwards said.

Two shelters in Springfield filled up on Saturday and emergency officials planned to open one more. There were also three shelters for people with special needs and medical conditions.

Missouri's Blunt said he had ordered about 200 National Guard troops to help in the Springfield area and another 150 around St. Louis. More could be called on later.

More rain, freezing rain and snow was expected from northwest Oklahoma all the way to Wisconsin on Sunday.

In Kansas, officials said the latest winter storm to hit hasn't caused many serious problems, though temperatures were in the single digits in western sections.

Sharon Watson, spokeswoman for the Kansas National Guard, said no new power outages were reported in Kansas, but that some residents in western Kansas remained without power from last month's storm.

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