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Weekend storm leaves deadly toll

High winds, slippery roads, power outages reported as deadly storm exits.

CHICAGO | December 24, 2007

Christmas lights were expected to be on throughout Oklahoma as power was restored to nearly all utility customers left in the dark for more than a week after a winter ice storm blanked the nation's midsection.

But as power returned to parts of Oklahoma and Kansas, the fourth consecutive major weekend storm was responsible for plunging thousands of other homes into the dark and being blamed for major traffic accidents from Texas to Wisconsin.

The powerful winter storm blanketed much of the area with heavy snow and blizzard conditions and heavy fog socked-in major airports. At least 19 deaths were blamed on the storm, which caused numerous traffic accidents including many multi-vehicle pileups that forced the closure of portions of interstates in Kansas, Missouri and Texas - and bogged down Christmas holiday air traffic.

At the peak of the storm more than 225,000 homes were without power Sunday in Wisconsin, Michigan and Illinois after the combination of ice and high winds knocked down power lines. Winds were clocked at nearly 90 mph across Lake Michigan and wind gusts between 50 and 68 mph across the Chicago area were responsible for hundreds of flight cancellations.

Weekend snowfall stretched from Minnesota to Oklahoma and winter storm warnings, watches and advisories were posted across the Midwest.

The severe weather was blamed on several multi-car accidents. At least one death was reported in a chair-reaction accident including as many as 50 cars and trucks on Interstate 40 in Texas. A 30-car pileup on I-70 in Kansas was also blamed for one death. More than 40 miles of that Interstate was closed as a result of the snowstorm while police in Missouri closed about 100 miles of I-29 following another wreck that included dozens of vehicles.

In Oklahoma, where more than 640,000 customers had been without power since last week's ice storm, only 3,500 homes and businesses were without service as of Friday, according to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission.

Shelters which had been opened across the state at the height of the outage there were 47 shelters statewide have all been closed. The Salvation Army and Southern Baptists had been assisting by providing some of the more than 100,000 meals that were served.

Eighteen more counties have been added to the major disaster declaration issued by President Bush. The counties approved were Beaver, Caddo, Canadian, Craig, Creek, Delaware, Grady, McClain, Nowata, Okfuskee, Okmulgee, Osage, Ottawa, Pawnee, Payne, Rogers, Seminole and Washington.

"We appreciate the speedy turnaround from federal authorities," said Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry after his request for the declaration was approved within hours of it being submitted. "This indicates FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) understands the severity of the ice storm damage suffered across the state. We will continue to push for additional assistance for the people of Oklahoma."

Bush previously approved major disaster declarations for seven counties: Cleveland, Lincoln, Mayes, Oklahoma, Pottawatomie, Tulsa and Wagoner.

Those counties will receive federal funds to help local governments repair roads, bridges and public facilities damaged by the storm. Funds will also go for debris removal and reimbursing costs associated with responding to the ice storm.

Henry said additional disaster declaration requests may be made as damage assessments are completed. He said the storm caused some $200 million in damages.

That storm was also blamed for 29 deaths, 16 of them in motor vehicle accident. Nine other people died in house fires, two died of carbon monoxide poisoning and two died of hypothermia, the state Medical Examiner's Office reported.

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