Published Friday

February 1, 2002 

Winter storm leaves path of destruction from Texas Panhandle to New York


A major winter storm that hit the nation's midsection crippled Kansas City, Mo., and Oklahoma City on Thursday with a heavy coating of ice that glazed highways, snapped tree limbs and left hundreds of thousands of people without electricity. 

The belt of ice and snow at one point wreaked havoc from the Texas Panhandle to upstate New York, and nearly all points between. At least 15 deaths were blamed on slick roads or freezing temperatures. 

At airports around the Midwest, passengers were stranded by the thousands. More than a foot of snow fell at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, causing cancellations, delays and headaches. 

Oklahoma and Missouri were hit the hardest, with an icy rain lacquering everything in sight. Utility officials in Kansas said it was the worst storm in memory and warned it could be days before power is restored to everyone. 

Kansas City Fire Chief Smokey Dyer said the fire risk soared overnight because of damaged electrical connections caused by felled power lines. 

"It was poppin' like the Fourth of July back there," said Doris McGee after a tree limb pulled down the backyard power line to her home. 

The Omaha Public Power District sent 46 people to Kansas City, including line crews and tree trimmers, to assist local workers. 

"They'll help do whatever's necessary to restore service," said OPPD spokesman Mike Jones. 

The Omaha crew left Thursday afternoon and is expected to be in Kansas City until Sunday. 

The storm, centered over the Mississippi Valley, moved to the northeast through the day, pushing into New York and sending snow into New England. Up to a foot was forecast in some parts of the Northeast by today. 

At its peak, the storm left 270,000 customers without power in Kansas City and 200,000 more in Oklahoma. At least 185,000 were in the dark in parts of Michigan and Indiana. 

"That makes this easily the worst storm we have ever experienced," said Kansas City Power and Light spokesman Tom Robinson. "We need our customers to be prepared that this could last several days." 

Jones said Kansas City officials requested the Omaha crew. Several Midwest utilities have assistance agreements in place. 

Kansas City power workers came to Omaha to help after a storm slammed the city in October 1997. 

At least 15 people died in traffic accidents blamed on the weather, including three people each in Nebraska, Oklahoma and Illinois. 

World-Herald staff writer Tom Shaw contributed to this report.