Storm cuts power to more than 1 million customers

CONCORD, N.H. – An ice storm to compare with some of the Northeast's worst made a mess of the region Friday, leaving 1.25 million homes and businesses in seven states without power as it forced schools to close and toppled ice-laden trees and power lines onto slippery roads.

Most of the outages were in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maine and New York, and it was expected to take several days to completely restore electricity. The storm wreaked havoc from Maine to Pennsylvania, leaving a sparkling, ice-covered landscape that was too destructive for many to find beautiful.

"This is pathetic," said Bob Cott of Portland, Maine, who lost power for the first time in 10 years. "I'm already sick of winter and we have nine days to go before it officially begins."

At least one death was related to the storm: New Hampshire officials said a 49-year-old Danville man who lived in a camper died of carbon monoxide poisoning after turning on his generator when his power went out Thursday night.

For New Hampshire, the power outages dwarfed those during the infamous Ice Storm of '98, when some residents spent more than a week in the dark.

In Hampstead, N.H., Mark Cegelis, 36, said things were hectic at his neighborhood gas station, which was jammed with people trying to get gas for home generators.

"It's kind of lawless out there right now," he said. "There's a lot of people very frustrated stacking up at the gas stations. It's pretty ugly."

He bought 21 gallons for himself and tried to deliver some to friends in Derry but couldn't get there because downed trees blocked roads. So the two friends came to him instead, and were expected to hunker down with Cegelis' family, his parents and another friend until power was restored.

"So nine people here. But you know what? We've got the juice, and we're willing to let these folks come in. I'm sure they'd do the same thing for us," he said. "It's treacherous out there."

Nearly two dozen shelters were set up across the southern part of the state, and authorities were working to get generators to several nursing homes. About 20 people, mostly elderly, had settled in at a shelter at Portsmouth High School by early afternoon, though officials expected more families with young children by evening.

"The big worry is really about seniors when temperatures drop in a few hours," New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch said Friday afternoon.

Both Lynch and Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick declared states of emergency Friday morning and called up members of the National Guard. Five hundred Massachusetts Guard members were cleaning up debris and clearing access to downed power lines. Lynch put 150 on alert and deployed 20.

"All of the resources at our disposal have been made available to try to get the roads clear and power restored," said Patrick, adding that it would be "ambitious" to think power would be restored by Monday to the 350,000 homes and businesses in his state left in the dark.

"This is not going to be a couple of hours," Patrick said. "It's likely to be several days."

Utilities reported more than 400,000 homes and businesses without power in New Hampshire, including 320,000 served by the state's largest utility, Public Service Company of New Hampshire. By contrast, the 1998 storm left 55,000 Public Service customers without power.

"This is the absolute, most significant power restoration effort we've ever had. There has not been a storm before that has affected more customers," Public Service spokesman Martin Murray said.

Public Service officials said they do not know yet how long it will take to restore all power, but suggested repairs for at least some homes and businesses will go into next week. They have lined up 300 crews from as far away as Maryland and Ohio to be in the state by Sunday, are looking for more, and hope to be able to give a better estimate of restoration late Sunday.

Crews from Canada and South Carolina were headed to Maine, where Gov. John Baldacci declared a limited emergency allowing utility crews to work longer hours. Central Maine Power Co. said more than 215,000 customers in the dark as of late Friday morning, mostly in southern and coastal areas. Bangor Hydro Electric Co. reported more than 12,000 outages.

Two people were taken to Maine Medical Center after being overcome by fumes from a portable generator in their basement. Their names and conditions were not immediately available.

In eastern New York, particularly around Albany, the state capital, outages at National Grid and other utilities brought the statewide total to more than 255,000.

"Trees were down on all the roads," said Miguel Figueroa, 28, as he waited for coffee at a Starbucks in Colonie, N.Y. "... I couldn't even get on the Thruway today."

In Vermont, at least three shelters were being set up in southern Vermont for the more than 30,000 customers who were without power Friday afternoon. It could be days before some homes and businesses get their lights back on, officials said.

The ice storm extended to Pennsylvania, where about 4,700 customers, most of them in the Poconos, lost power, and Connecticut, where some 17,000 customers were without electricity at the height of the storm. Those states mostly got heavy rain or rain changing to snow.

Though blue skies appeared in some areas by Friday afternoon, temperatures were expected to fall below freezing again, with single digits forecast for Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire Saturday night.

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Associated Press writers Holly Ramer in Concord, N.H.; Beth LaMontagne Hall in Portsmouth, N.H.; Mark Pratt in Boston; Clarke Canfield in Portland, Maine; John Curran and Lisa Rathke in Montpelier, Vt.; and Mike Hill and Jessica M. Pasko in Albany, N.Y., contributed to this report.


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