Ice Storm Knocks Out Power for Thousands

An ice storm across the southern Plains

knocked out power to nearly a half-million homes and businesses and

stranded travelers through the region, unexpectedly extending their

holiday vacations.

The weather has also caused numerous accidents and nine traffic deaths and forced the Arkansas governor to shut down state government today.

In many towns, the only light early this morning came from exploding power transformers streaking blue and yellow lights across the sky.

“You’re just hoping your roof’s not gonna cave in,” said Kay Bowling, a 21-year-old mother of two who first lost electricity and then telephone service. “Everything in my trailer house is electric. We’ve got water but it’s really, really cold.”

Thousands Without Power About 214,000 Arkansas customers lost electricity early today, while 120,000 Oklahoma homes and businesses were dark late Tuesday. About 106,000 Texas customers were without electricity at least part of Tuesday, as were another 50,000 in northern Louisiana.

A lull in the icy weather — however short-lived — was predicted for Thursday by the National Weather Service at North Little Rock.

“It will be a brief break, because we have another batch of moisture coming Thursday night, but that may be just snow,” said forecaster Nelson De Villiers.

Entergy Arkansas said restoring service might take until Tuesday. A Dec. 12-13 storm cut electricity to nearly a quarter-million Arkansas users. Entergy spokesman James Thompson said the company had 4,000 workers on task.

Stranded in Little Rock At a hotel near the Little Rock National Airport — closed since Monday — Gary Blankenship of Memphis, Tenn., remained trapped with other stranded travelers and lamented his family’s aborted trip to Amarillo, Texas. Little Rock had more than a half-inch of ice and Amarillo had 15 inches of snow.

“We’ve canceled our plans and as soon as the weather clears, we’re heading back to Memphis,” Blankenship said. “But I’ve got it better than some of these folks. At least I’ve got my family with me.”

In Fort Smith, the 117-year-old Times-Record newspaper, with a circulation of 42,000, shut down Tuesday in advance of today’s edition and did not publish a paper “for the first time ever,” editor Jack Moseley said. The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas at Springdale, circulation 35,000, also announced on its Web site that it wouldn’t publish today.

Roads ‘Slippery as Ice Rinks’ Temperatures that fell into the upper 20s at Albuquerque froze portions of Interstate 40 on Tuesday night, prompting police to close the route.

National Weather Service officials said as much as a quarter inch of ice could create ice-rink conditions across North Texas, while snow 20 inches deep could bury the Panhandle before the storm pulls away.

Matt Ham, a security officer patrolling a truck stop along Interstate 40 in Amarillo, said snow drifts Tuesday night were up to his knees.

“It’s real deep, messy. I wouldn’t advise coming out here,” he said. “I’m finding a lot of stuck vehicles.”

On open roads, the Arkansas National Guard was sent out in Humvees to rescue stranded drivers. Gov. Mike Huckabee ordered state government closed today, extending Tuesday’s official holiday.

Deadly Traffic Accidents Four traffic deaths were blamed on the storm in New Mexico, and five were killed in Texas on a rain-slick road.

Most flights were canceled at Will Rogers World Airport at Oklahoma City. At Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, 738 American Airlines flights were canceled.

The Arkansas Department of Emergency Management said the weather had caused 26 counties to declare a state of emergency. Half had opened at least one emergency shelter — the Texarkana area in hard-hit southwestern Arkansas opened five.