Low-Tech Disaster in Oklahoma

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Low-Tech Disaster in Oklahoma

Sunday, December 31, 2000

By KELLY KURT Associated Press Writer SWINK, Okla. (AP) - It took a year, but the worst of Y2K predictions finally caught up with Lequetta and Benny Perry. On Christmas Day, the electric poles outside their home snapped and tumbled, one by one, under a heavy coating of ice. Their lights went out. The pump on their water well stopped.

The end of 2000 brought what the Y2K computer bug had not: A disaster that left more than 75,000 Oklahomans sitting in the cold and dark. ``This is what they expected with the Y2K, but Mother Nature did this,'' Lequetta Perry said, huddling next to her wood stove Saturday, her sixth day without electricity.

The southeast Oklahoma chapter of the American Red Cross had trained in preparation for the Y2K bug, the computer glitch that was expected to wreak havoc by causing computers to read ''00'' as 1900 instead of 2000. But nothing prepared them for the ice storm that left even the local hospital without water, executive director Billie Cathey said. ``No matter how prepared you were, no matter how much you had trained, you are never prepared,'' she said wearily. ``It terrifies me.'' Chance kept the Perrys from freezing when the low-tech ice storm cut their power. They had installed their wood stove just days before. Their daughter's family has had to camp out in the Perrys' living room to stay warm. A neighbor has provided them with drinking water. But with $400 worth of meat swimming in its blood in her thawing deep freeze, Lequetta Perry was tired of the survival game and ready for a nice hot bath. ``I would never have made a pioneer woman,'' the 52-year-old said. ``I couldn't have survived.'' The run on the Ace Hardware store in Broken Bow resembled last year's pre-Y2K stockup, ``but this is worse,'' manager Robbie Simpson said.

Lanterns, fuel and camping gear all had been snatched from the shelves and new supplies hadn't come in. Farther north in McAlester, the Red Cross shelter began to empty as crews slowly restored water and electric service. Oklahomans who didn't seek help at shelters were being creative.

Reba and Gene Osterdock kept the gas flame burning on their stove and used a camping lantern for light. They finally paid $566 for a generator before their power was restored Saturday. ``Oh boy!'' Mrs. Osterdock laughed. ``You just don't realize how much you depend on it until it's gone.'' State officials warned against some alternative heating methods. Carbon monoxide poisoning is suspected of claiming the lives of two men in Fort Towson who may have been using an improperly vented butane heater.

Kelly France, Choctaw County Emergency Management director, noted low shelter attendance and said it's possible that some residents were getting by on generators they bought because of Y2K concerns. But he said many were just making do with whatever they had. ``They're tough,'' he said.


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), December 31, 2000

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