Ice Storm Diaries

Tuesday, 18 December 2007
While the great ice storm of 07 left historic numbers of Oklahomans without power and disrupted food and basic service delivery – it brought into focus some of the reasons for the seasons and the best of human and community nature.  This is a compilation of reports from our editors and reporters.

Tulsa Today offices were never without power, but staff, friends, and family not so lucky camped out here – the office became a refuge.  Some just dropped by for a home cooked meal and shower, but Monday night we were wall-to-wall sleeping on any kind of mattress, recliner, and the ever so slightly padded concrete.  Similar hospitality was extended to employees of New Medio and other companies with space in the center of the city.  The core of downtown maintained power, but high-rise views showed an ocean of black beyond.

Tulsa’s treasured hardwood canopy came crashing down as quickly as virgin timberland outside the metropolis.  It would be easy to pick on midtown neighborhoods whose recent vocal opposition to tree trimming and even underground installation of lines because the power distribution boxes “looked ugly in the front yards,” but even some recently trimmed trees were downed by three-inch layers of ice.

On the twenty-second hundred block of South Rockford near Cousin Larry’s house five “Stop the Chop” signs all disappeared.  We also looked for “Stop the Box” signs with no success.  In fact, photographers couldn’t find any of those signs still on display anywhere in midtown Tulsa.   Tulsans love trees and we will replant, but Mother Nature will play with them during storms without regard to humans below.  Several pecan groves along the Verdigris River visible from I-44 have been devastated.

Reasors grocery in midtown remained open in the dark.  With just enough back-up power to run registers and a few lights, employees removed perished food by the truckload, but some goods remained as customers hunted supplies in dim light.  The check-out girl remarked on the good humor of customers saying, “Everyone seems more patient and happier.”

In fact, life did slow down as business and social appointments became secondary to survival.  Families rediscovered the fireplace, playing cards, and conversation.
Music and entertainment writer Jim Downing reports “We have a little gas fireplace stove, but it wasn’t hooked up. I went to Home Depot for adapters. They were running on generators with only a few working lights. Checkout lines were 20 deep, but the mood was good. People were patient, helping each other with correct change. “

Many area homes have natural gas heating, but without working electric thermostats and blower motors – they do not heat.  However, gas stovetops (not ovens which require electricity) helped and some older homes have small gas heaters in bathrooms which proved the difference between abandoning home or not.  Those with potbellied stoves thanked their love of antiques.  

Modern cordless telephones were useless.  The old style worked if the phone lines themselves were still operational.  Many people reported driving automobiles to charge their cell phones.  Downing reports that his son wants the family’s downed walnut tree to make a guitar body.

“Tulsa looks like a glass shop Paul Bunyan went through,” the Downing family suggests.

The downtown QuikTrip was operating in the dark, selling only cold foods. The clerks figured tax with pencil and paper.  Thank their math teachers.

Sarah McCauley, Tulsa Today general assignment writer, was amazed at first on Sunday morning that her husband’s restaurant style cafe still had power.  “Every table was full with lines of people waiting outside. Many other places in the area were without power. That luck was short lived as it soon became the restaurant’s turn to join neighbors in darkness. All my husband could do was leave with regret knowing $10,000 of perishable food would soon be lost.

“We decided we should go to a hotel. We first went to La Quinta at 41st and Sheridan, next to Reasor’s.  At the reception desk they had a print out taped up everywhere that read ‘No vacancy tonight.’  We feared all other hotels would be the same,” McCauley writes.

“My husband came up with his own idea that I remember which sounded something like — ‘Why don’t we put gas in the car. When it gets to cold in the house, we’ll come outside and sleep,’ I quickly suggested we continued searching.

“We checked two Radissons, Comfort Inn, and Howard Johnson – no vacancy.  Every stop at a new hotel I felt like we were in completion. Lots of cars with cold families following the same routine – husband drives, wife navigates, kids in the back.  Wife goes and asks for room, then back to the car and off to another prospective hotel.  It got to be funny as we saw the same cars at every new hotel we checked – a desperate caravan.  We found ourselves near 51st and Yale. My hair was wet because it was raining so my husband went into the new hotel this time – surprise, he returned with a key.

“In amazement, he told me the rate was double from what it normally was. A room that typically rents for around $70 dollars had become way above that. I’m not sure if the hotel was much better — the heater didn’t work and the water pressure on the shower seemed like it was turned down, but we had cable, a microwave and fridge,” McCauley added.

While preferential treatment was announced for hospitals and nursing homes that did not equal uninterrupted or immediate power.  A trip to check on family at Ambassador Manor Nursing Home at 61st and Peoria found them in the dark as late as mid-week.  Dedicated staff worked in some cases with their young children in tow.  Directing the kids to hold flashlights as they attended the needs of the clients, staff gathered residents around the facilities fireplaces.  All were bundled-up, attended, and seemed to be handling the adventure well.

Mike McCarville reports, “Power was restored to Casa McCarville in the metro Oklahoma City area Sunday, seven days and ten hours after it went out under a cascade of ice and falling tree limbs. That was after the first limb to fall hit the regulator on top of the gas meter and caused an explosion that sent Midwest City firefighters into our backyard at 4 a.m. and an ONG worker into it five hours later to restore our gas service.

“A real sour note: Our next-door neighbor purchased a generator and had it running in his open garage the first night without power. Some cretin or cretins stole it. May the thief or thieves rot in hell,” McCarville writes.

“I’ve heard considerable bitching the past week about OG&E and how long it has taken to restore power in some areas; the criticism comes from those ignorant of the immense logistical and safety issues that wide area outages create. Before power can be restored in most cases requires workers to survey every house to make certain meters aren’t pulled away from houses or lines aren’t down and in danger of setting fires when power is restored. Couple that logistical time-eater with the weather we’ve had up until today and the scope of the chore OG&E workers, and the crews from out of state, face, becomes clear. And the complaints about alleged "preferential treatment" given some areas (i. e., Nichols Hills) are BS; some of the first areas with restored power were blue collar neighborhoods all over [the metro area], including some in Del City and Midwest City and Moore and Choctaw, Bethany and Warr Acres,” McCarville added.

McCarville writes one of the best Oklahoma political blogs, The McCarville Report Online, but not all Internet content is so honorable during crisis.

The published last week an inane posing that illustrates why some Internet sites have no credibility. It is not news or true fact, but a hyperbolic demand for attention from a fundamentally faulted human.  The entire paragraph follows as published.

ICEY MISERY CONTINUES: NOW THE ARCTIC BLAST MAJORITY OF TULSANS WITH POWER, BUT WHOA TO THOSE WITHOUT! A chilling prospect for Tulsans who have been holed up in cold homes would be the spectre of freezing pipes and hypothermia as another round of ‘wintry mix’ heads our way. Dozens have died in fires and of air poisoning, many yet to be discovered. On the happier side would be the shouts of joy heard in workplaces citywide as Tulsans received word that their electricity was now restored.

How many errors can you find?  While some grammar, spelling and syntax mistakes are obvious, it is the “many yet to be discovered” sentence that is dishonorable if not criminal.  If Tim Huntzinger or anyone else knows of dead people undiscovered and they have not officially notified authorities then they should be arrested.  Unfortunately, yelling “fire” on the Internet when there is none may not be as actionable as some would like.  Oh well, who needs ethics or intelligence when you own a firebombing site?  Huntzinger also posts often on other Tulsa forums and he is one example why reasoned people have abandoned posting.

Tulsa Today Editor Crystal Kline was in the mix of professionals activated to answer Mother Nature’s ice challenge.  Kline writes, “On Monday December 10th at 5:30 a.m., my phone rang.  When I picked it up, I got a recording from the Tulsa Area Emergency Management Agency (TAEMA) notifying me that the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) had been activated and my presence was requested.  I threw on my clothes, took the time to fix my hair and makeup (hey, a girl’s gotta look good, especially in a disaster), and jumped into my little red convertible, pulling out of my covered parking lot onto the streets in my neighborhood, where I was greeted with a scene I never thought I would see.

Everywhere I turned, my way was blocked by trees—trees covered in ice, bending in agony, covering the entire street as they suffered from the weight of the storm.  Every turn I took, I saw the same horrific sight.  Though I only live ten blocks from the EOC, I began to think I would never be able to leave my neighborhood.  My tiny car barely managed to squeeze its way past a tree here and there, enabling me to successfully struggle through the maze of wood and downed power lines, which I was careful to avoid like the plague.  I know better than to go near downed power lines.  I was thankful that I didn’t drive anything bigger.  It wasn’t four-wheel drive I needed, it was compressed car.

I got to the EOC at 6:15, and it was already abuzz with first responders; police, fire, EMSA, Sheriff’s deputies (see why I took the time to look good?), were already at the task of trying to begin to manage this event.  My role was to be a shadow to the Emergency Management Director and make sure he got whatever he needed, enabling him to focus on the big picture.  I answered phones, called officers to homes, kept a running log, faxed the Mayor’s signed request for an emergency declaration to the governor, attended press conferences, and basically, made myself useful in whatever way I could.  When I went home at 4:15, many who were there before me were still going strong.

This ice storm created the biggest power outage in PSO history.  The newspapers, radios and word of mouth are full of stories of families without power using the opportunity of no TV and no internet to become closer; of neighbor helping neighbor; of the many people who came to LaFortune Park yesterday for free wood being met by the many trucks of people bringing more wood to give away; of friends who had power helping those who did not.

I was one of the fortunate few who did not suffer from a power outage.  My apartment building was well-designed years ago by an architect who made sure there were two underground sources of power to the building; if one source goes out, the other kicks in.  The result is that no one there can ever remember a time when the building has been without power, and believe me, there are some long-timers there.

I have offered my apartment with power, heat and food, to many of my friends, most of whom declined the offer because they already had other friends to go to.   I did have a few people take advantage of the offer, and we had a great time making homemade banana pudding and watching DVDs.  My building is currently full of people who laughingly refer to themselves as “refugees.”

Last night I received a call from a friend who was eating at Applebee’s, which was full of many of the crewmen from other states sent here to assist PSO in getting everyone’s power on.  She thanked them for coming to help and was dismayed to learn that most of the crews there that night had no place to stay, or at least didn’t know where they were supposed to go.  She called me asking me to help find out where they were supposed to go to sleep.  I first said the Expo Center, but she said they had gone there, and the showers were cold, apparently because too many people were using them.  A quick call to KJRH got me the information they needed.  I was told to send them to the Union Mac Center, where they checked in and bunked down.  There are literally thousands of people from out of state coming in to help PSO get us back up as quickly as possible—men and women leaving their own families during the holidays to help us.  If you meet any of these wonderful people, please express your gratitude.

Almost all of the people devoting their days and nights to working in the EOC managing this event are, themselves, without power.  One fire chief lives in a rural area where he keeps horses.  The fallen trees destroyed his fencing, allowing his horses to escape.  He handled that personal crisis, yet managed to be in the EOC every time I was in there.  The Emergency Management Director’s home was without power, but when he built it, he was wise enough to make sure a powerful generator was hooked up so that it could be easily turned on when needed.  The Deputy Director’s home was also without power.  Ditto for most of the police officers, EMSA guys, firemen and almost everyone else there, including officials from the Mayor’s Office as well as volunteers.

Our city is full of dedicated people who are focused on keeping critical facilities operating during times of disaster.  Tulsans are amazing people.  We should never forget it.   
Last Updated ( Wednesday, 19 December 2007 )