FEMA pledges help after winter storm

Saturday, February 2, 2002

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency pledged his help Friday for areas of Missouri hardest hit by this week's ice and snow storm.

FEMA director Joe Albaugh told Gov. Bob Holden -- who toured a north Kansas City neighborhood lacking electricity and littered by downed tree limbs -- that the agency would do what it could to aid the cleanup. Holden said he will formally apply for federal disaster aid on Monday.

Teams from FEMA and Missouri's State Emergency Management Agency will spend the weekend reviewing damage left by the storm, which dumped heavy snow and ice on a wide portion of Kansas and northern Missouri. Hundreds of thousands of residents lost power and heat.

Many residents with no lights or heat filled emergency shelters across the area.

Ice-covered tree branches continued crackled and fell Thursday, leaving nearly 300,000 customers in the Kansas City area without electricity. The damage prompted Holden to declare a state of emergency on Thursday.

Clear skies and expected highs in the mid-30s inspired some hope for melting and good conditions for crews working on damaged power lines.

Returning power

At one point, Kansas City Power and Light estimated that 270,000 of its 470,000 customers were without power, a number cut to about 144,000 by 3 p.m. Friday, spokesman Tom Robinson said.

More than 300 line crews from other utilities in 12 states, and another 100 tree crews were arriving to help the KCPL linemen restore power, a process expected to take some time.

About 500 people stayed overnight in Kansas City-area shelters, said Amy Haulmark with the Red Cross in Kansas City.

"This is the most devastating storm we've ever experienced in our 120-year history of serving the Kansas City metro area," said KCPL executive vice president Bill Dowling. "We will be at it through the weekend and into next week. We plead for patience as we try to do this."

Another utility, Missouri Public Service, which serves about 205,000 customers in western Missouri, said Friday morning that it had restored power to about 20,000 customers but that another 37,000 were still without service.

"Our crews have repaired a number of main feeder lines that returned power to large groups of customers," spokeswoman Debbie Leonard said. "However, in many cases, our crews must go to homes and businesses on an individual basis to repair electric equipment that has been damaged."

In suburban Independence, the municipally owned Independence Power & Light Department said 10,000 customers, about 20 percent of the total, lost power.

On the Kansas side, the Board of Public Utilities in Kansas City, Kan., said outages affected about 10,000 of its customers.

Three deaths

Authorities have blamed at least three deaths on the weather: Christopher D. Moles, 31, of Harrisonville, died of carbon monoxide poisoning Thursday morning after running a gasoline-powered generator in his garage; one person died after a fall in a Kansas City suburb, and a crash in northeast Missouri killed a Quincy, Ill., woman on Wednesday.

Kansas City Mayor Kay Barnes declared a city emergency, allowing the city to drastically alter its procedures to react to disaster conditions.

Holden's emergency declaration gave storm-damaged areas in west-central and northern Missouri access to state help. The governor's declaration could eventually lead to federal disaster relief money.

Most schools in the area called off classes for a third day Friday because of the power outages, and some said they might be closed Monday as well.

Central Missouri State University in Warrensburg shut down classes for its 11,000 students, and nearly 2,000 were evacuated from residence halls as six dorms were closed, said university spokesman Jeff Murphy said.

Students were offered shelter in the Warrensburg Community Center or Yeater Hall, a dorm with enough power to run the heat and use emergency lights, Murphy said.

The campus was to remain closed through Sunday.

"There are a number of trees covered with ice and lots of branches down," Murphy said. "There is a major clean-up job right now just to clear the walkways."

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