A winter storm hammered Oklahoma on Thursday, leaving at least four people dead, stranding holiday travelers and commuters, paralyzing traffic throughout the state and prompting the governor to declare a state of emergency.
Three people died in a weather-related crash on State Highway 51 in Sand Springs, and another person died in a crash on Interstate 44 near Geronimo, authorities said.
The identities of the victims were not released.
Gov. Brad Henry declared a state of emergency for the state’s 77 counties in the midst of the storm, which moved into the state in the early morning hours of Christmas Eve. Local authorities will be able to seek reimbursement from the state for storm-related costs. The declaration is a precursor to federal aid.
Oklahoma’s price gouging law also went into effect when Henry declared the state of emergency. The law prohibits a rise of more than 10 percent for most goods and services during the emergency.
The storm was expected to move out of the state by this morning, according to the National Weather Service.
Daytime highs statewide today should be near or below freezing thanks to the snow and an arctic air mass that followed the storm, but no more precipitation is expected over the weekend.
Roadways a mess statewide
Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers reported numerous crashes and road closures throughout the state on Thursday.
Dozens of motorists called The Oklahoman’s
newsroom saying they were stuck on freeways and streets in the Oklahoma City area. Some callers said they had not moved in hours. Police said 911 lines were flooded with calls.
The blizzard hit quickly, stranding cars in snow drifts across the metro area. Many travelers abandoned their cars, making it nearly impossible for city snow plows to clear the city’s snow routes, said Oklahoma City spokesman Kristy Yager.
"There are just too many cars in the way. We can’t plow the routes,” Yager said.
She said crews worked throughout the night and anticipated roads would be better by morning.
People in four-wheel drive pickups and sport utility vehicles patrolled streets offering to help people get unstuck, although some were charging a fee, employees of The Oklahoman
The H.E. Bailey Turnpike from Newcastle to Texas was the first major road to close when troopers shut it down in the early afternoon. Authorities later shut down all interstates in the Oklahoma City area and the Oklahoma City-to-Tulsa Turner Turnpike. The Creek Turnpike in the Tulsa area was closed about 6 p.m.
Oklahoma National Guard vehicles were deployed to help rescue stranded motorists on the H.