The Woodward News

Local News

February 28, 2013

Officials discuss recovery efforts

Woodward, Okla. — Emergency management officials discussed the blizzard recovery efforts in Woodward and the area during a press briefing Wednesday morning at the emergency operations center.

Woodward received well over a foot of snow on Monday and early Tuesday morning, closing schools, highways, government offices and businesses.

"We commenced operations around 5 p.m. on Sunday, but we'd been prepping for it since noon. Its been a 24/7 operations since then," Paul Mitchell, emergency coordination officer, said.

He said the office has been coordinating with state emergency agencies as well as other outside recovery agencies.

Mitchell said WEM had provided both the Woodward Fire Department and Woodward County Sheriff's office with 5-ton trucks for use in rescues and to pull out stranded vehicles. Mitchell said they also deployed several generators, including one for Freedom when energy to that town’s booster pump failed and sewage disposal became a concern.

Emergency Management Director Matt Lehenbauer noted some structures collapsed under the weight of the snow, including one in a residential area that resulted in a fatality.

Several carports and awnings  were also damaged.

Lehenbauer said a large portion of the Siemens plant roof west of Woodward had collapsed, but that the plant was still in operation.

The snow also collapsed an awning at a Mooreland gas station. Part of the outdoor lawn and garden area at Wal-Mart was also damaged along with an awning at Woodward High School.

There were 2 traffic deaths in Kansas attributed to the storm that affected a good part of western Oklahoma and western Kansas.

One weather-related accident that happened early Thursday morning involved a train and car as a vehicle apparently became stuck on the tracks at 48 Street and was hit by the train. No one was injured as the car was empty.

Lehenbauer said the main priority for emergency management is reaching people in Mutual to resupply families there. He said the people in Mutual were expected to be without power and with little food and that those who rely on rural water wells would be without water.

In addition to working to help people in the Mutual area, another main priority over the next few days will be trying to assist ranchers in reaching their cattle stranded in the snow.

Woodward Fire Chief Steve Day said his department responded to a pair of house fires on Monday, one east of town and another south of town. Day said a house burned down in the fire east of town and south of town a fireplace filled the house with smoke. There were no injuries in either fire.

Day reported the emergency vehicles that had gotten stuck in the snow during a fire call on Monday afternoon had been successfully recovered Tuesday. He encourages people to stay indoors if they can and to be patient with recovery efforts.

Woodward Regional CEO Dave Wallace said the hospital has treated a number of injuries from the blizzard - most caused by slips and falls.

Wallace said nearly 30 employees came in to work early to make sure they would be available to help out when the blizzard hit.

Woodward Public School Superintendent Tim Merchant said the school is working to clear parking lots and the county is making efforts to clear roads and bus routes. It was announced late Wednesday afternoon that  Woodward would have school on Thursday.

Woodward has been out of school since last Thursday due to the snow.

"We got every piece of equipment that we have or that we can borrow going right now. It’s a beast of a job," Merchant said.

The high school basketball teams were finally able to make the trip to Weatherford on Wednesday to restart the 4A regional tournament. Both teams won and will play again tonight.

Most of the schools in the area have also been out all week, as well as High Plains Technology Center and Northwestern Oklahoma State University.  

OG&E community affairs manager Mike Ruby said the company's efforts are currently concentrated in the Camargo and Taloga areas in Dewey County.

Ruby said county commissioners were assisting by sending crews to help grade the roads so OG&E vehicles could reach areas in need of repair.

He said they hoped to have repairs done by sometime Thursday.

Northwestern Electric Cooperative employees have also been working feverishly to restore power.

Jonna Hensley, the member services and communications coordinator, said there are currently 450 members without power. The bigger concentrations were southeast of Woodward in the Vici and Lenora areas and north of Mooreland in Quinlan, Belva, and Curtis in the east part of their territory. There are also other spotty outages.

Hensley said the main obstacle was an inability to reach the areas.

"Our problem is the same as everyone else's, we just can't reach the areas," she said.  "A basic rule of thumb is if you can't reach us, we can't reach you."

Transportation officials continue to make steady progress on the roads and by Wednesday evening the department of transportation said most of the roads were now open.

Some caution, though, is still needed due to the possibility of refreezing.

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