Oklahoma pursues presidential disaster declaration as OG&E continues working to restore power in wake of ice storm

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Oklahoma officials will pursue a presidential disaster declaration, and OG&E will likely be restoring power into late next week after a massive ice storm struck Oklahoma, toppling trees and knocking out power to hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses across the state.

Gov. Kevin Stitt held a news conference on Thursday afternoon from the Cox Center. He and other officials provided updates on recovery efforts in the wake of the ice storm.

Director of Emergency Management Mark Gower, Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt, Oklahoma City City Manager Craig Freeman, OG&E Chairman and CEO Sean Trauschke and United Way President and CEO Debby Hampton participated in the news conference alongside Stitt.

Trauschke spoke toward the end of the news conference, addressing the massive number of power outages caused by the storm.

There were 225,904 outages across Oklahoma as of 6:45 p.m. Thursday; 130,201 of those outages were in Oklahoma City.

OG&E crews are in the process of stabilizing the system, Trauschke said.

“Today is the first clear day that we haven’t had a front coming through, that we’ve been able to really get eyes on the system and look at it,” he said.

OG&E has over 3,000 people on the ground in Oklahoma City, working to repair the system. All of the areas around Oklahoma City should be returned to service on Thursday evening, according to Trauschke.

He said Enid and Woodward should be fully returned to power over the weekend.

Trauschke said there’s currently not a clear outlook as to when all of Oklahoma City will be brought back to power, but said right now it appears that it could be late next week before the last customer is restored to power.

“It is a tough time. We understand that a lot of people don’t have electricity. We’re working really, really hard to restore that service as quickly as possible,” Trauschke said.

Stitt encouraged those who have power to help neighbors who might not.

Trauschke said Stitt declaring a State of Emergency on Monday enabled OG&E to begin bringing in crews from out of state.

He thanked community members for their patience and understanding during the storm and its aftermath.

OG&E made a donation to the United Way to provide emergency housing, food and water around Oklahoma City, Shawnee and surrounding territories, according to Trauschke.

“If you need shelter, if you need support…call 211,” Trauschke said.

Emergency Management’s presidential disaster request and recovery efforts

Gower said the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management has reached out to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) regarding federal assistance for Oklahomans.

“Moving forward, we are already working with FEMA and started the process for gathering the information needed to make a presidential disaster request,” Gower said.

Stitt said he has been in touch with the White House throughout the week and will continue working with White House officials as the state recovers.

Gower advised renters and business owners whose home or business sustained physical or structural damage that is not covered by insurance to go to damage.ok.gov and submit a report. He said doing so enables state officials, along with local municipalities and jurisdictions, to track damage to major infrastructure and homes.

Emergency Management personnel are tracking power outages across the state and responding to over 11 requests for generators that are needed to provide critical infrastructure services, Gower said.

“Events like these require a response from all levels of government,” Gower said.

State Emergency Management personnel have communicated with emergency managers from cities, counties and tribal municipalities to track storm damage across their jurisdiction and gather information on what support they need, according to Gower.

The Department of Emergency Management has also been working closely with the Oklahoma Corporation Commission and electric providers such as OG&E, PSO and rural electric cooperatives to help match up requests for generators for critical infrastructure such as rural water systems, Gower said.

Emergency Management is working with the Department of Transportation, the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality and the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety on various storm-related issues impacting Oklahomans.

Stitt said he spent time with utility crews on Wednesday night, thanking them for their efforts.

“These guys and ladies are truly living the Oklahoma Standard. Over 50 percent of them did not have power in their own homes, yet they were working all night restoring power to the citizens of Oklahoma in really tough conditions,” Stitt said.

Stitt personally thanked the crews that came in from out of state for their hard work.

“They still have a lot of work because of how widespread this storm was,” he said. “So please give them space to work safely and do not be afraid to give them a smile or a wave if you see them.”

The Department of Emergency Management was activated on Monday and has been coordinating with state agencies, local governments and other municipalities around the state, Stitt said.

Gower said Emergency Management is also collaborating with voluntary agencies and 211 to help coordinate requests for shelters, warming stations, mass feeding and other services that the state relies on those organizations to help with.

Damage to Oklahoma City and ongoing cleanup efforts

Holt and Freeman spoke during the news conference, addressing the extensive damage the ice storm inflicted upon Oklahoma City and the ongoing cleanup efforts.

Holt, who was wearing an Oklahoma City Fire Department jacket in honor of a firefighter who was seriously injured while battling a house fire Wednesday night, said the ice storm has three chapters – the storm itself, power loss and the effort to return power and the cleanup effort.

Holt said the problems caused by the storm will not be resolved quickly.

“This is something that is going to take a very long time. This is a massive event,” he said.

Holt urged Oklahoma City residents to make sure to move limbs from fallen trees and other tree debris on their private property to the curb, where city workers will eventually pick it up. He also asked community members to help neighbors who are not physically able to move limbs and debris.

“Please be conscious of the elderly or others who don’t have the ability to get those branches to the curb in a format where we can pick them up. Please think about that,” Holt said. “Each of us has a responsibility to our neighbors to offer ourselves. If we see a house that has not had any work done on its branches, say a week from now, please knock on that door and see if there’s something you can do to help.”

Freeman said tree damage is the biggest issue across Oklahoma City.

ice damaged tree
Photo by Nancy McCourry

“This is debris and damage across the entire city, 620 square miles, so working to get that addressed is going to be really important,” Freeman said.

City street crews are continuously working to clear tree debris from streets, but its an ongoing effort that will require time, according to Freeman.

Freeman said storm damage is widespread and community patience is needed.

“We’ll make at least two passes through the entire city, every neighborhood in the city, to make sure we get all the debris. But as the mayor said, it’s going to take some time, so we’re going to need your patience,” Freeman said.

The mayor expressed deep gratitude to the thousands of line workers who came from all over the country to restore power across Oklahoma City.

He once again called upon community members to help their neighbors in need.

“Please reach out to those who do not have power if you do and try to meet their needs and help them get through this event, which could have a long tail into next week,” Holt said.

Freeman said the city will do everything it can to help community members impacted by the storm, but if they have needs that can’t be fulfilled by the city, they can call 211 to see if there is additional assistance for them.

Hampton also urged community members in need to contact 211.

“If anyone [in the community] is in need of social services, they need to contact 211. It is the 911 of social service agencies and it is statewide. They are available 24/7 and seven days a week,” Hampton said.

Nonfunctioning traffic lights and other concerns in Oklahoma City

Freeman touched upon traffic signals that are still inactive. He said most of the signals are down because of power outages.

“As the power is restored, our crews are working to get the traffic signals reset as quickly as possible so we can keep traffic moving,” he said.

Photo goes with story
Oklahoma City firefighters at the scene of a house fire on Wednesday night.

The Oklahoma City Fire Department has been deluged with emergency calls because of the storm, Freeman said.

The Fire Department has received over 1,000 calls for service over the last couple of days and has responded to over 51 structure fires.

Solid waste pickup was halted on Tuesday to avoid trucks causing further damage to trees that had low-hanging limbs. Freeman said trash will be picked up on Saturday for residents who did not get their garbage picked up on Tuesday.

Freeman expressed gratitude for city workers and outside contractors who have worked hard and continuously in response to the ice storm and the damage it caused.

Protecting the Survivor Tree

The storm destroyed scores of trees across the state, but the Survivor Tree – the 100-year-old American elm that survived the terrorist truck bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995 – was saved from the ice storm, according to Stitt.

“As soon as we saw ice building up on the Survivor Tree, our Forestry Department jumped into action,” he said. “They worked really hard to protect such an important asset for the City of Oklahoma City and for our state as a whole,” he said.

Stitt thanked city street crews and public workers who have worked hard to clean up debris, as well as volunteer chainsaw crews.

Photo goes with story
The Survivor Tree suffered damage from the ice storm.

“This is what Oklahomans do – we come together from all walks of life to help out our neighbors in times of need,” Stitt said. “I know it’s miserable being without power, especially when it’s been this cold outside, but I know we’re going to get through this. They’re working really hard to get power restored.”

Stitt warns about fraudsters, advises safe practices with heating devises

Stitt advised community members who sustained damage to their home to contact their insurance agent. However, he urged caution when seeking contractors to repair damage.

“I know we’re all in a hurry to get things cleared up and cleaned up, but be careful with contractor fraud. With every storm, there’s always people who come out of the woodwork and try to take advantage of this situation and people in need,” Stitt said.

Stitt reminded Oklahomans that price gauging is illegal.

“You can report suspected fraud or price gauging to the Attorney General’s Office,” he said.

The governor asked community members to be safe when using generators or other methods to heat their home.

“Make sure they are very well ventilated and [you] use those correctly. They can be deadly. We actually lose more lives during these situations from faulty ventilation than even the storm itself. So make sure your generators are ventilated and are outside,” he said.

Stitt also asked Oklahomans to ensure that all heaters, stoves and fireplaces are at least three feet away from anything that burns.

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