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500,000 in U.S., Canada remain in the dark from ice storm

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By From Staff and Wire Reports
Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2013, 7:39 p.m.
 

For the first time in days, the sun was shining and skies were blue when Doug Jennings stepped outside his home on Tuesday in central Maine. But the power that disappeared in a gigantic weekend ice storm? It was still out, setting up his family for a very cold and very dark Christmas Eve.

“It's going to be problematic. We're going to have to do something about it, go to a hotel or whatever,” said Jennings, who lives in one of several towns near Augusta that were almost completely blacked out. “I don't know.”

Jennings and his family were among the half a million utility customers — from Maine to Michigan and into Canada — who lost power in a weekend ice storm that one utility called the worst during a Christmas week in its history. Repair crews worked around the clock to restore service, but like Jennings, thousands prepared for a holiday at home without electricity or packed up their wrapped gifts and headed off to stay with family or friends.

They faced doing so on a white Christmas, too. The National Weather Service said more snow was expected to move into the Northern High Plains and Central Rockies on Tuesday before rolling into the Great Lakes and Midwest by Wednesday morning.

Snow squalls caused crashes involving up to 40 vehicles on I-90 east of Cleveland, an interstate bustling with holiday travelers that links Cleveland with Erie and Buffalo, N.Y. The crashes shut down an 11-mile stretch before noon. A few people were taken to hospitals, but there were no serious injuries, police said.

“When the temperatures drop like this, people need to be prepared and expect slick conditions,” said PennDOT spokesman Steve Cowan.

A 7:35 a.m. crash involving a tractor-trailer on Interstate 70 in Washington County temporarily closed traffic in both directions between southbound Interstate 79 and Exit 27.

A forecast for dry weather and temperatures in the 30s for the rest of the week makes a repeat of Christmas Eve traffic crashes in the region unlikely.

A sunrise temperature of 14 on Christmas will warm to the low 30s, and highs in the 20s and 30s are expected through the weekend, said Lee Hendricks, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Moon.

Forecasters expect no snow. A coating to an inch fell on Tuesday.

“River levels have dropped below 18 feet, so the good news is that the Mon Wharf will no longer be flooded,” Hendricks said.

The Pittsburgh Parking Authority said the garage would reopen on Friday, after being cleaned.

The nationwide death toll from the storm reached at least 14 on Tuesday, when a 50-year-old man in Knox, Maine, was overcome by carbon monoxide fumes from a generator.

It was the second reported death attributed to fumes from a generator during the storm. Police in Michigan attributed two deaths in a traffic collision on Monday to the storm.

The number of customers in Maine without power spiked to more than 100,000 on Tuesday, even as Central Maine Power Co. sent more than 1,000 workers to help restore power throughout the state. The company's goal was to restore power for all customers by Thursday night, while other utilities in Maine warned customers they could be without electricity until Friday.

Across the border in Canada, Toronto officials said 90,000 customers were still without power on Tuesday. While that was down from 300,000 people at the height of the weekend outages, some were likely to be in the dark until after Christmas.

That was the case, too, in Michigan, where Jackson-based Consumers Energy — the state's largest utility — said it hadn't had this many outages during any Christmas week since its founding 126 years ago.

Close to 17 percent of its 1.8 million electric customers lost power during the storm that hit late Saturday; roughly 157,000 remained without it Tuesday.

“We expect to see even more progress today as additional crews from 11 states and Washington, D.C., continue arriving in Michigan,” said Mary Palkovich, Consumers Energy's vice president of energy delivery. “We thank the men and women working safely around the clock to recover from this catastrophic storm and our customers for their continued understanding and patience.”

Ken Fuller runs a generator repair shop in Lansing, Mich., where more than 13,000 people were without power on Tuesday.

He typically closes by noon on Christmas Eve, but at 12:30 p.m. he was cleaning out a broken generator's carburetor — and had five more waiting to be serviced.

“The temperature outside is 15 to 20 degrees,” Fuller said. “Christmas is going to have to take second fiddle right now because houses are getting cold, freezing water pipes.”

That was the concern that John Potbury and his family of four faced outside Flint. They lost electricity at 6 a.m. Sunday and since then have been living in a single bedroom warmed by generator-powered space heaters.

Lights on the Christmas tree were dark, of course, but there was no power to the freezer, either. “Even though the house is freezing cold, the freezer items were starting to thaw out,” Potbury said.

That wasn't the greatest concern, however, for his kids, 8-year-old Jacob and 5-year-old Jackson.

Potbury said he told them Tuesday, “Santa runs on reindeer power, not electricity, so he should be OK.”

 

 
 


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