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Ice Storm Claims 17 Lives

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- A deadly winter storm that caked America s centre with a thick layer of ice claimed at least 17 lives and blacked out more than 600,000 homes and businesses.

The deaths in Oklahoma and Missouri were blamed on the conditions, with 15 people killed on icy highways.

A state of emergency was declared for Oklahoma, where the sound of branches snapping under the weight of the ice echoed through Oklahoma City.

You can hear them falling everywhere,

Lonnie Compton said as he shovelled ice from his driveway.

The National Weather Service posted ice and winter storm warnings for parts of Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa and Illinois. Missouri declared an emergency and put the National Guard on alert.

Oklahoma utilities said 500,000 customers were blacked out as power lines snapped under the weight of ice and falling branches, the biggest power outage in state history, and utilities in Missouri said more than 100,000 homes and business had no power.

Probably one out of three Oklahomans has no electricity at this point, said Gil Broyles, a spokesman for Oklahoma Gas & Electric.

About 11,000 customers were blacked out in southern Illinois and more than 5,000 had no electric heat or lights in Kansas, where governor Kathleen Sebelius declared a state of emergency.

At O Hare International Airport, 100 flights were cancelled by last night, said Chicago Department of Aviation spokeswoman Karen Pride.

Ice was up to an inch thick on tree limbs and power lines in parts of the region.

Schools across Oklahoma were closed and some hospitals were relying on back-up power generators.

Tulsa International Airport had no power for 10 hours and halted flight operations for the day, and most morning flights at Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City were cancelled because of icy runways. Greyhound bus passengers were stranded overnight at a shelter in a church in Tulsa, and were joined by residents who had no heat.

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