Outages chill thousands

BY SUSAN KIM | Wynne, AR | December 15, 2000

Thousands of residents across the U.S. are chilled as winter storms cause power outages in many states.

Among the hardest hit is Arkansas, where more than 80,000 homes have been without power since ice and freezing rain began to fall Tuesday. More freezing rain was expected on Friday.

Some 43 counties in the state were affected by the storm, according to the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management. Thousands of residents have lost power, water, or phone service. Debris and damage has been caused by falling trees and limbs.

Shelters and care centers have been opened for those displaced by the storm. Along with schools and community centers, shelters are open in local churches, including Union Ave. Baptist Church, E. Baptist Church, and the Wynne Catholic Church in Wynne; and Parken First Baptist Church in Parken.

Many shelters have been able to close as people get power back, said Teri Pfeiffer, public information officer for the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management. "But some people may not have power until Sunday or Monday. This is more ice than we almost ever get."

In other states, winter weather also took its toll. In Louisiana, more than 43,000 were without power due to ice storms. And on Friday, 90 mph winds whipped Washington state, leaving some 100,000 homes and businesses without power.

In California, residents once again escaped blackouts as state regulators scrambled for alternative sources of electricity. A Stage 2 alert was declared and a Stage 3 -- in which rolling blackouts can occur -- was narrowly averted.

The eastern U.S. was battered by high winds earlier this week, with 80 mph winds causing flight cancellations, downed trees, and power outages stretching from Ohio to Massachusetts.

In Pennsylvania, a tree blew into a mobile home, killing one woman as she slept. Another man was killed when a tree crushed his pickup truck.

After blizzard-like conditions hit the Midwest this week, bitter cold was predicted again for the weekend.

Daniel Noah, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service based in North Dakota, said that the winter weather seems worse than usual because the Midwest has enjoyed a winter reprieve for the past few years.

"In the past few years, we've had a combination of El Nino and La Nina, and this year we don't have either," said Noah. "We've only had two winters since 1990 with below-normal temperatures. It seems a lot colder to people because they're no longer used to it."

If this winter is "back to normal" for the Midwest, it has a major economic difference from the past, at least in some areas. An increase in the cost of heating oil has many families worried about their winter bills. "I've heard reports that the costs have gone up 30 percent in some areas," said Rob Keller, public affairs officer for the North Dakota National Guard.

"In rural areas, costs for fuel are even higher because those residents have to have fuel brought out to them."

Cheri Baer, a Church World Service disaster resource consultant, said that she was concerned that there will be not only increased deaths related to freezing temperatures this winter but also an increase in fires because more people will be using additional heat sources.

"I said a prayer to have people be very careful if they use additional heat because I know we'll hear of fires this winter," she said. "Also, I know we're going to hear about people freezing to death. We have to take care of the elderly."

Like Keller, Baer was concerned that the rise in fuel would pose hardship to families trying to stay warm. "Churches and other groups are smart enough to know they will have to help people with their heating bills this year," she said.

The annual death toll in the nation due to various impacts of frigid air is 770 people.

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