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Storm prompts rolling outages for most Texans

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FORT WORTH -- Texans trying to stay warm during a massive ice storm overloaded a power grid and forced utilities to implement rolling outages for most of the state Wednesday, leaving children sitting in dark classrooms, drivers waiting at signal-less intersections and people stuck in elevators.

The "rotating outages" would last 15 to 45 minutes or longer in each affected neighborhood and did not include hospitals and nursing homes, state regulators said. They did not know when the outages would end.

Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, home of Sunday's Super Bowl, was exempt from the outages, said Jeamy Molina, a spokeswoman for Oncor, which supplies electricity to 7 million consumers. The Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers were scheduled to practice Wednesday at the sprawling $1.3 billion venue.

Hotels in downtown Dallas, where many fans are flocking in the run-up to the big game, are not affected by the controlled outages because they have a special hookup to the power grid, said Larry Auth, a spokesman for Omni hotels.

The hotels where the teams are staying have backup generators, and any power outages would be brief while the hotels switch to those generators, Auth said. The NFL said some of the hotels the league is using have had "brief but expected" outages that have caused no problems.

Some schools in Houston, the state's largest school district with more than 200,000 students, briefly were in the dark Wednesday morning. Classes were not canceled, said school district spokesman Norm Uhl.

Elizabeth Tosh got stuck in an elevator in a Houston office building for 45 minutes during the second outage of the day Wednesday. She and a co-worker spent about two minutes in the dark before the emergency lights kicked on, Tosh said. Then they began pressing buttons and hitting the emergency button for about 30 minutes until they managed to contact the building personnel.

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Tosh said she and her colleague laughed and joked, and even had snacks with them in case they were trapped longer. But after the elevator finally started moving and the pair finally exited into the lobby, she decided not to join him as he started walking toward another elevator.

"I'm not riding with you," she quipped as he got into one of the cars.

"Smart choice," he answered.

The decision was announced early Wednesday that utilities operating as part of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, were required to start the outages to compensate for shortages caused by the high power demand. The outages affect the state's largest cities, including Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio, Austin, Corpus Christi, Abilene and the Rio Grande Valley -- more than three-fourths of the state.

In addition to the rolling outages, thousands of Texans remained without power after the massive ice storm hit the state Tuesday.

The American Red Cross set up a shelter at a gymnasium in Odessa, where temperatures were in the single digits before dawn Wednesday, similar to other West Texas cities.

Schools in Dallas and Fort Worth were among hundreds across North Texas that remained closed Wednesday for a second day. Classes in Lubbock were starting two hours late.

About 150 flights were canceled Wednesday at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, said David Magana, an airport spokesman.

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