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Blizzard rakes Oklahoma, stranding motorists and closing schools

Residents hunker down during Oklahoma blizzard.
BY DAVID ZIZZO dzizzo@opubco.com Modified: February 2, 2011 at 3:41 pm •  Published: February 2, 2011

“I'm in a ditch,” Tulsa police spokesman Leland Ashley said while talking by phone to a reporter.

The Tulsa World newspaper announced it would be forced to cancel a print edition Wednesday.

Snow buildup collapsed a portion of roof at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in the Tulsa area, causing a gas leak but no injuries.

As the storm progressed, the number of vehicles getting stuck, especially on highway ramps, rose rapidly, and road closings grew with them. A portion of the Turner Turnpike — westbound lanes from Tulsa to Stroud — and the Will Rogers Turnpike, the main artery to the Missouri border, had been closed, as had Interstate 40 near Henryetta in east-central Oklahoma and Interstate 35 in the Arbuckle Mountains in southern Oklahoma.

The Indian Nation, Creek and Muskogee turnpikes also were closed either entirely or in stretches, state troopers said.

Flights at airports in Oklahoma City and Tulsa were canceled most of the day. Officials at Oklahoma City's Will Rogers World Airport planned to resume operations Wednesday morning.

“It's going to take a little longer time to dig out of this,” Oklahoma City airport spokeswoman Karen Carney said. “It's probably going to be a couple days before we start seeing schedules return to normal.”

Even where roads remained open, officials warned that travel was hazardous, as temperatures dipped below zero in some areas.

Travelers' troubles

Those who ventured out had to be prepared. Jesse Bensinger, a bank facilities manager, carried two shovels and a dozen bags of ice melt in the back of his pickup as he helped a driver shovel out of the Edmond Post Office parking lot.

“I was driving by and knew I couldn't leave him here,” he said.

Edmond Police Chief Bob Ricks said at times he could only see two feet in front of his vehicle because of the blowing snow.

“It is a total white-out,” he said. “There are drifts on the streets and it is still coming down.”

In Norman, police had assisted a few stranded motorists to get their vehicles moving, “but as far as emergency calls go, it's been pretty quiet,” Capt. Tom Easley said.

Steve Taft, owner of a Norman tow service, described the biggest problem: “Right now, it's just the dummies trying to drive in it.”

Power outages were limited, with up to 4,000 Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. customers without power at one point. The company had pared that down to fewer than 400 by afternoon.

For those needing a refuge from the bitter cold, shelters opened across the state and some hotels offered discount rates.

Cody Keesee spent the day rescuing cattle on his Holdenville ranch, including a bull that fell in a pond.

“It's not a bad day, it's just a tough day,” he said.

Contributing: Staff Writers Robert Medley, Michael Baker, Michael Kimball, Matt Patterson, Matt Dinger, Jennifer Palmer, Bryan Dean, Jane Glenn Cannon, Richard Mize and Jay Marks

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