LITTLE ROCK Arkansas’ largest utility warned Wednesday that it could be 2013 before it can restore power to of its customers who lost electricity in a blizzard that dumped a foot of snow on some areas and knocked down trees and power lines throughout the state.
Two Arkansans died in a weather-related accident Tuesday, and another two died in a pair of accidents in Oklahoma.
While the snow stopped by midday Wednesday, trouble remained for power crews trying to restore service to more than 200,000 homes and businesses. Before damage assessments were even finished, Entergy Arkansas said that based on the most recent comparable storm — during the 2000 holiday season — some power could be out until Jan. 1 or later.
“We had the freezing rain, sleet and snow compounded by the high winds. It’s a lot of factors coming together to cause extensive damage, and then the process of resetting power is slowed down by the winds and the slippery roads,” Entergy spokeswoman Julie Munsell said. “While we expect that we will have most people on sooner, some people could be out seven [days].”
While snow isn’t unusual for the region, the Christmas Day storm was exceptional for its scale. Snow hadn’t fallen in Little Rock on Christmas since 1926, but ended Tuesday with 10.3 inches of it. Winds gusting to 40 mph in the northeastern quarter of the state prompted the National Weather Service to post a blizzard warning that lasted to midmorning Wednesday.
Gov. Mike Beebe declared that only essential personnel had to report for state government jobs in the Little Rock area Wednesday, and he was among the few people in the Arkansas Capitol building.
“I’m essential personnel. I figured if I didn’t show up people would think I’m not needed,” Beebe said, wearing an Arkansas State sweatshirt on a visit to a nearly empty press room with his bodyguard and spokesman.
Earlier Wednesday, he dispatched the National Guard to help ambulance crews that were having trouble reaching people who needed transportation to hospitals.
“They’re actually transporting EMTs, nurses” and patients, the governor said.