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The Shawnee News-Star
  • December storm leaves high Oklahoma death toll

  • OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A December storm that left ice, snow and sub-freezing temperatures across Oklahoma was not as severe as crippling ice storms and blizzards the state has experienced in recent years, yet the weather was blamed for the deaths of 10 people who suffered fatal injuries in collisions, fires and other accidents.
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  • OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A December storm that left ice, snow and sub-freezing temperatures across Oklahoma was not as severe as crippling ice storms and blizzards the state has experienced in recent years, yet the weather was blamed for the deaths of 10 people who suffered fatal injuries in collisions, fires and other accidents.
     
    Public safety officials provided Oklahomans with advance warning as the storm pushed into the state, and they urged residents to stay off the roads after ice and snow coated streets and highways, making driving treacherous. But officials said accidents resulting in injury or death are almost inevitable when bad weather strikes.
     
    "I'm sad that there are 10 people who lost their lives," said Lara O'Leary, spokeswoman for the Emergency Medical Services Authority. "I think 10 is too many. Of course, one is too many."
     
    At least four weather-related fatalities were attributed to traffic accidents, including a 5-year-old boy from Fort Gibson who was killed when a van he was riding in overturned on an icy road as the storm moved into the state on Dec. 5.
     
    "Accidents do occur when bad weather happens," said Lt. Brian Orr of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol. "Anytime you have bad weather, you definitely want the motoring public to slow down."
     
    Last year, a total of 660 traffic accidents statewide were attributed to snow, blowing snow or sleet, resulting in 355 injuries and four fatalities, Orr said. Although winter weather sometimes makes traveling treacherous in Oklahoma, it's not as common as in other parts of the country, he said.
     
    "We get some cold weather. We get some snow. But we're not like Minnesota," Orr said. "Drivers in Oklahoma overall do a relatively good job."
     
    Orr credited the efforts of state Department of Transportation crews in preparing state roads and highways before and during the storm for helping to limit traffic accidents. Transportation Department crews spread 13,400 tons of sand and salt on state highways in Tulsa and Oklahoma City alone at a cost of about $1 million, officials said.
     
    At least two weather-related fatalities were attributed to fires: a man who died following a propane stove fire in Westville and a man who was killed in a house fire in Tulsa.
     
    Oklahoma Fire Marshal Robert Doke said many weather-related fatalities occur as people try to heat their homes or prevent exposed pipes from freezing.
     
    "When wintertime comes, we unfortunately nationwide suffer an increase in fire-related and suffocation deaths," Doke said.
     
    The use of space heaters can overload residential electrical systems and spark fires, he said.
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    Doke said suffocation can occur from the use of open-flame heaters that are not vented, producing toxic carbon monoxide.
     
    "It's known as the silent killer," he said. "You die from a lack of oxygen."
     
    O'Leary said EMSA ambulances and paramedics responded to dozens of reports of injuries from people who slipped and fell on icy surfaces or experienced hypothermia due to sub-freezing temperatures.
     
    "There were less injuries than what we were fearful of. But there were still plenty of them," she said.
     
    American Red Cross spokesman Ken Garcia said the agency responded to 35 house fires in central and western Oklahoma in the days after the storm.
     
    "When it starts to get cold out we know that house fires tend to increase," he said. "We just want to push preparedness information before the weather is coming. Always be prepared. Be smart."
     
    He said the agency urges residents to stay indoors during icy weather to prevent injuries.
     
    "Always consider your physical condition," he said. "Ice is the equalizer. It doesn't matter whether you're sure-footed or not."
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