Arkansas' largest utility warned its customers Wednesday that it could be 2013 before all power is restored after a brutal blizzard inundated portions of the state with a foot of snow and its gusty winds knocked trees over virtually statewide.
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 the next calendar page flips.
"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 the Southern Plains and Mid-South see snow, the Christmas Day storm was exceptional for its scale. Little Rock hadn't seen snow fall on Dec. 25 since 1926 but ended the day with 10.3 inches. 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.
Jackknifed tractor-trailers blocked portions of Interstate 40, and Beebe said state police, sheriffs and wreckers were aiding motorists stuck in traffic. "They have not requested the National Guard," he said.
The governor also said he had given utility companies permission to bring in out-of-state workers to help restore power. He said he wasn't sure what regulations might be in place to prevent their working in Arkansas, but "If you have a problem, call me."
Snow struck the Southern Plains beginning Christmas morning in Oklahoma, arriving with a storm system that spawned nearly three dozen tornadoes along the Gulf Coast. Brisk north winds followed the snow, causing drifts and prompting forecasters to warn of wind chill readings at minus-11.
In Faulkner County, Cloe and Anastasia Meredith of Pangburn died when the car they were in slid across the center line on Arkansas 36 late Tuesday, state police said.