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Weather cripples southern Plains

Using lessons mastered just two weeks ago, Dave Kaffenberger closed off a few rooms of his house and gathered his family around the hearth after an ice storm knocked out the electricity.

"We lit a half-dozen candles and played Clue," Kaffenberger said in his darkened home Wednesday. "It's an extended Christmas. That's the way I'm looking at it."

Ice and snow across the southern Plains since Sunday have brought down power lines and cut electricity to more than 590,000 homes and businesses. In some places, people were without telephone service and power outages disabled municipal water pumps.

The cold and ice have been blamed for 14 deaths since Monday: four in New Mexico, nine in Texas and one in Missouri.

Texas was expected to see drier weather today, but more freezing rain was forecast for parts of Arkansas, Mississippi and northern Louisiana. Wintry mixes also were possible in Alabama and Georgia.

An ice storm also knocked out power to nearly 250,000 customers in Arkansas on Dec. 12-13. Some homes were not reconnected until Friday.

The southern Plains see icy weather a few times each year, but seldom so much so often.

"The temperature in the house is 50 and dropping, so it's getting to the point where it's going to be too cold to stay here," said Pat O'Connor, stuck with his family in Little Rock late Wednesday.

Entergy Arkansas said it could be Jan. 5 before all power is restored. Total outages in Arkansas were about 275,000 late Wednesday, down from more than 315,000 earlier in the day.

The lights also were out for 120,000 people in Oklahoma; 106,000 in Texas; and 50,000 in Louisiana.

More than a foot of snow and ice virtually shut down the Texas Panhandle on Wednesday, stranding travelers and closing businesses. Other parts of northern Texas were without electricity for the third straight day, and dozens of flights were canceled in Dallas and Amarillo. The Little Rock airport, closed since Monday, reopened Wednesday.

Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said state government workers could return to work Thursday, though he asked for federal help in bouncing back from the storm. Curfews were set in other Arkansas communities, including Texarkana, where there was minor looting. Gas stations in Ashdown rationed gas to weary Christmas travelers, while De Queen residents caught rainwater off their roofs to flush toilets. People cooked on gas grills.

Some residents were taking the storm in stride.

"The beer's already out on the deck keeping cold," said Conway Rucks of Little Rock.