Holden declares state of emergency in KC, northern Missouri

Thursday, January 31, 2002

Associated Press WriterKANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Missouri's governor and Kansas City's mayor signed emergency declarations Thursday after a fierce winter storm iced power lines and trees and dumped heavy snow across northwestern Missouri.

Nearly 300,000 customers in the Kansas City area alone lost power during the storm. At least 270,000 of those belonged to Kansas City Power & Light, whose frustrated repair crews fixed lines only to see them brought down again by overwhelmed branches.

Mayor Kay Barnes' declaration allows Kansas City to drastically alter its procedures to react to disaster conditions. Soon after her declaration, Gov. Bob Holden signed a similar order, giving west-central and northern Missouri access to state help in digging out. Holden's declaration could eventually lead to federal disaster relief money.

Kansas City officials estimate they have spent $1 million already on the storm, which began in earnest Wednesday and continued into Thursday with freezing rain and ice.

Heavy snow fell across northwestern Missouri, with St. Joseph receiving at least 5 inches.

Kansas City Power & Light spokesman Tom Robinson called the storm "easily the worst" in the city's history. "We need our customers to be prepared that this could last several days.

"We are going to round up every resource we possibly can to deal with this."

Power lines and trees slumped under the weight of the ice, which began falling steadily early Wednesday and into Thursday morning. Branches snapped and fell onto power lines, blowing transformers and cutting heat to thousands of homes as overnight temperatures fell into the mid-20s.

Branches crashing through power lines created a 10-fold risk of fires, officials said. "We are in a tremendous fire hazard right now," said Kansas City Fire Chief Smokey Dyer.

Many neighborhood streets were impassable and some major thoroughfares impeded. During the morning rush hour, many traffic control signals were out of service and police made arrangements to control the traffic.

Airline passengers were warned to call ahead to check the status of their flights at Kansas City International Airport, and passengers stranded by cancellations Wednesday quickly filled area hotels. More air delays were expected Thursday morning.

KCPL's Robinson said the utility was seeking help from other electric companies, but since those nearby in Kansas and Missouri were experiencing similar problems, the help would have to come from far away.

About 10,000 customers of the Board of Public Utilities in Kansas City, Kan., were affected by power outages, and at least 9,000 Westar customers in the outlying areas of Olathe, De Soto and Bonner Springs, Kan., also lost power.

Virtually all schools in the area called off classes Thursday for the second straight day.

Meanwhile, heavy snow was reported farther to the north, in both Missouri and Kansas, with a winter storm warning still in effect for a wide area. The National Weather Service said between 9 and 14 inches of snow could accumulate near Maryville and Rockport in extreme northwest Missouri, with 6 to 12 inches at St. Joseph by Thursday night.

The forecast didn't inspire much hope for a quick melting.

Sunny skies were expected to return Friday to western Missouri, though high temperatures should only range from the mid-20s north to the upper 30s southeast.

The extended forecast Saturday through Monday called for partly to mostly cloudy skies, with highs each day from the mid-30s north to the mid-40s south.

The storm made for treacherous driving.

A truck was left dangling precariously off Interstate 670 in Kansas City after a four-vehicle accident, and rescue crews used an aerial platform to rescue the truck driver.

The Missouri State Highway Patrol has attributed one traffic death to the weather. Angela J. Gower, 24, of Quincy, Ill., lost control of her pickup truck on Missouri 16 near Canton Wednesday morning, slid across the centerline and struck another vehicle, the patrol said. She was thrown from the truck and pronounced dead at the scene.

The storm prompted Northwest Airlines to cancel all Wednesday flights in and out of Kansas City International Airport, and United followed suit Wednesday. Delta canceled flights before 1:25 p.m. and a few flights later in the afternoon, though other Delta flights took off, airport spokesman Joe McBride said.

Merchants made brisk sales of sidewalk ice-melt and sandbags designed to add weight -- and traction -- to vehicles.

Lorenzo Gonzalez, assistant manager at Home Depot in Independence, said customers started coming out early Tuesday to prepare for the ice storm.

"We've been selling lots of ice-melt and tube sand. In fact, that's pretty much all we've been selling," he said.

April Phipps, of Independence, lost power late Wednesday night while watching a "Seinfeld" rerun. She said it was about 60 degrees in her house when she left.

"It wasn't shivering," she said, "but it was nippy."

Other fallout from the storm:

--St. Joseph's Health Center in south Kansas City lost power twice overnight and canceled all elective surgery for Thursday, spokeswoman Debbie Brinkoetter said.

Brinkoetter said power was restored about 8 a.m., but it was standard procedure to cancel non-emergency surgeries while a disaster plan was in effect. She said the hospital should be back to normal operations Friday.

--The storm created different problems elsewhere in Missouri.

In eastern Missouri, the National Weather Service issued a river flood warning for the North and Maries rivers. A flood watch was in effect for wide swath of southwest Missouri, where forecasters worried that steady rains on top of saturated soil would create flooding in small streams and low-lying areas.

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