CHICAGO - Ice and rain pelting the central United States have killed at least six people, forced the cancellation of hundreds of flights in Texas and knocked out power to more than 100,000 customers in Missouri and Oklahoma, officials and media reports said on Saturday.

"The Plains are just getting hammered," said Michael Eckert, a
National Weather Service forecaster. "Areas from Oklahoma, northern Texas, across Missouri, northwest Arkansas into central Illinois, those are getting hit by a lot of freezing rain and sleet."

Travel warnings have been issued along the storm's path, and six storm-related deaths have been reported in Oklahoma and Kansas City, Missouri, since Friday, local media reports said.

Ice accumulations in some areas since late on Friday ranged from 1 inch to 1-1/2 inches, he said.

"That started yesterday and they are still getting hit right now," said Eckert, who is based in Maryland.

Flood watches have been issued for parts of the region from southern Ohio to southern Texas where temperatures remain above freezing, he said.

About 40,000 homes were without power in Oklahoma and 65,000 were without power near Springfield, Missouri, according to local media. Oklahoma's governor has declared a state of emergency there, state officials said.

"I would urge all Oklahomans to exercise extreme caution if they have to venture outside," Gov. Brad Henry said in a press release.

In Oklahoma City, some store shelves were reported stripped bare of bread, dairy products and canned goods as residents prepared.


In Texas, David Magana, manager of public affairs at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, said "300 flight departures have been canceled for today, which is about a third of our departures."

Airlines were de-icing aircraft as they leave, he said.

The storm's second surge arrived in the Plains on Saturday and another surge is forecast for Sunday, said Eckert.

"This is a long-term event. This is going to be an event that is going to go on for the weekend and eventually spread up into the northeastern U.S.," he said.

Winter storm watches have been issued for most of western New York and portions of northern Pennsylvania for Sunday, he said.

Cold weather has also hit California, where the citrus industry is assessing damage to lemon, orange, and mandarin groves from freezing temperatures overnight. California is the largest producer of citrus fruit for the U.S. fresh-fruit market.

The state's citrus growers expect to spend $3 million daily to protect their groves from cold temperatures and frost through the middle of next week, said Shirley Batchman, director of industry relations for California Citrus Mutual, a trade group for the state's citrus growers.