It's not OK in cold, dark Oklahoma

Skiatook_Huddled near her fireplace, Marla Carter wondered when Skiatook will be mentioned in news reports about the storm-related power outages that have left her without electricity for the past 10 days.

"It's kind of like we've been forgotten about out here," she said Tuesday. "There is life outside Tulsa."

Carter and thousands of other Oklahomans were still without power early Wednesday, more than a week after a massive storm coated the most populous regions of Oklahoma with ice.

Oklahoma's utility companies expect to restore service to most of their customers Wednesday or Thursday. The company that provides electricity to this town 30 miles north of Tulsa estimated that 99 percent of its customers would be back on line by Christmas.

President Bush issued a major disaster declaration Tuesday for seven Oklahoma counties battered by the ice storm. Federal funds will now be available to reimburse state and local governments for cleanup and infrastructure repairs.

The two-day storm caused 27 deaths, the state Medical Examiner's office said. Of those, 16 perished in traffic accidents, eight in fires, two from carbon monoxide fumes and one from hypothermia.

Crews working 13-hours shifts have restored power to all but 37,209 homes and businesses. Utility officials said power cannot be restored to some structures until the customers repair damage to connections where electrical service enters a home or business.

"We're out here in la-la land, and we're the last ones to be taken care of," said Ronnie Driscoll. He and his wife have been surviving with a gas stove, flashlights and battery-operated TV, but their patience is wearing thin.

"Monday was the first time we saw anybody up here," Driscoll said. "No electrician has been here - period."

Kathy Calico, a spokeswoman for Verdigris Valley Electric Cooperative, said she understood the frustrations of the residents without power, and that the company's goal is to restore service to 99 percent of its customers by next Tuesday.

"If we have to, we'll work Christmas Eve and part of Christmas Day, whatever we have to do," she said.

The storm broke about 1,700 power poles in the company's service area, initially knocking out electricity to as many as 14,000 customers, Calico said.

"We're not used to telling our members they're going to be out a day, and we're on day 10," she said. "The damage to the system is just huge."

Oklahoma was hardest hit by the storm that struck the Midwest and Northeast last week. In Kansas, where six deaths were blamed on the storm, about 24,000 customers remained without power Tuesday.

While the Plains struggled to put power back on, a swath of the country from the Great Lakes to New England dug out from a weekend storm that dumped 18 inches of snow in some places. At least eight traffic deaths were reported in the region.


JUSTIN JUOZAPAVICIUS, AP Writer Associated Press writer John Milburn in Topeka, Kan., contributed to this report.

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