Northeast struggles after storm blacks out 1.25M

Car and driver are stopped in Derry, N.H. on a road littered with fallen trees and wires after an overnight ice storm Friday, Dec. 12, 2008. The ice storm knocked out power to more than a half-million homes and businesses in New England and upstate New York, and authorities say it could take days for all of them to get service back. (AP Photo/Cheryl Senter)

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) -- Utility crews worked through a night of hand-numbing cold in the Northeast but they still had a long way to go before restoring power to all of the more than 1 million homes and businesses blacked out by a huge ice storm.

In New Hampshire, where more than 370,000 customers still had no electricity Saturday, Gov. John Lynch urged residents still without power to make overnight plans early.

"I think there were a lot of people who decided to just stick it out and stay home last night hoping that power would be restored today, but I think people have to assume that power will not come back today and seek shelter," Lynch said.

Utilities say it will be days before all service is restored.

Temperatures dipped into the teens Friday night and early Saturday in northern New England, forcing many people out of their homes and into shelters.

About 60 people spent the night at the Rochester, N.H., Middle School, including Debbie Reed, 57, who left her apartment Friday afternoon when she started seeing her breath.

"I still don't have power. I can't shower, I can't cook, I can't do much of anything," she said. "My plan is to go home and see how long I can stand it. If the power isn't back on by tonight I'll come back here. It's so cold I can only stand it for so long."

The ice storm compared with some of the Northeast's worst, especially in New Hampshire, where more than half the state - 400,000-plus homes and businesses - was without power at the peak of the outage. Far fewer customers were affected by the infamous Ice Storm of '98, when some residents spent more than a week in the dark. New Hampshire opened at least 25 shelters.

People lost power as far south as Pennsylvania, but most of the outages were in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maine and New York.

"This is pathetic," said Bob Cott of Portland, Maine. "I'm already sick of winter and we have nine days to go before it officially begins."

At least one death was blamed on the storm: New Hampshire officials said a man died of carbon monoxide poisoning after turning on his generator when his power went out Thursday night.

Both Lynch and Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick declared states of emergency Friday and called up members of the National Guard. Maine Gov. John Baldacci declared a limited emergency allowing utility crews to work longer hours.

"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 that lost service in his state.

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

An army of utility crews from across the East, Midwest and Canada headed into the region to help restore power.

By Saturday morning, crews had restored power to about 150,000 homes and businesses in Massachusetts, but more than 200,000 still were in the dark.

Peter Judge of the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency said that despite the cold, fewer than 1,000 residents took advantage of the 40 shelters set up across the state.

In Maine, about 176,000 homes and businesses still were without power Saturday, mostly in Central Maine Power's service area. At its peak on Friday, 220,000 CMP customers were in the dark. Maine officials say 150 to 200 people spent the night in shelters.

Vermont utilities reported just under 15,000 customers were without power Saturday morning.

Central Vermont Public Service Corp. had 33 line crews from western Pennsylvania helping its workers repair power lines. A number of retirees also pitched in, said CVPS spokeswoman Christine Rivers.

"We'd put one line up, and it seemed like another would break," said CVPS Springfield Operations Supervisor Stan Tucker. "It seems like every line has multiple problems."

In eastern New York, National Grid and other utilities reported more than 255,000 customers without service.

"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."

About 4,700 customers lost power in Pennsylvania, most of them in the Poconos, and some 17,000 customers were blacked out in Connecticut.


Associated Press writers David Tirrell-Wysocki and 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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