Power restored to most Oklahomans

Oklahoma City_Utility crews have nearly completed the huge job of returning power to homes and businesses in Oklahoma, where as many as 600,000 customers were blacked out by last week's deadly winter storm.

The number of customers in the cold and dark fell to less than 14,000 late Wednesday, with the majority of outages in the Oklahoma City area, utilities reported. Many workers who came in from more than a dozen states to help restore electricity were planning to begin returning home Thursday.

Oklahoma Gas & Electric, the state's largest electric utility, reported 9,401, while Tulsa-based Public Service Company of Oklahoma reported 1,000 outages. Another 3,500 customers of rural electric cooperatives and municipal electric systems remained without power.

OG&E spokesman Brian Alford on Wednesday predicted a "significant drop" in the number of customers without power. He said thousands of customers would remain without power because of damage to their meter bases, which is where power lines connect to the home.

"In many cases, that equipment has been pulled away, usually by a tree branch falling across their service line, and that damage needs to be repaired by an electrician before we can restore service," he said.

The American Red Cross of Central Oklahoma planned to close the doors of its temporary shelter set up at the Cox Convention Center in downtown Oklahoma City.

More than 400 people spent the night at the shelter last Friday and Saturday night, but Red Cross spokeswoman Natalie Scott said those numbers have been steadily decreasing as power has been restored.

Meanwhile, more winter weather is possible as a series of storm systems pass through the region.

The first system brought severe thunderstorms to far southeastern Oklahoma early Thursday, according to the weather service.

A stronger system may bring a mixture of rain and snow to northwestern Oklahoma beginning Friday night, but there's little chance for freezing rain, said Chris Sohl, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Norman.

The storm is expected to bring wind gusts of between 25 and 35 mph, which could further damage fragile tree limbs damaged in last week's storm, Sohl said.

Sean Murphy, AP Writer Copyright 2007 by the Associated Press. All rights reserved.