Power Outages Darken Christmas for Thousands

10:39 AM, Dec 25, 2013   |    comments
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Doug Stanlin, USA TODAY

As repair crews worked around the clock to restore power, tens of thousands in central and northeastern USA woke up to a cold, dark Christmas.

The fierce winter storm that brought a White Christmas to many northerners also delivered a dark Christmas to those who lost power in Michigan, Maine, Vermont and New York State after a weekend ice and snowstorm rolled across the region.

Crews in Maine restored power overnight to 35,000 people who'd been without power since the weekend, the Associated Press reported. By 8 a.m., about 70,000 remained without power.

In Michigan, where more winter weather was about to arrive, 151,000 customers remained without power after a Saturday storm that darkened more than twice that homes, according to utilities.

Consumers Energy's official twitter account tweeted "129k w/o power this morning as crews prepare to battle snow and wind." DTE Energy reported that 22,000 remained without power in its coverage area.

Brad Hoving, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Rapids, Mich., said most people were without power in some counties between Grand Rapids and Lansing, Mich. Some may not have electricity until sometime Wednesday or even Thursday, he said.

"It's a big deal," Hoving said. "It's Christmas and we've just had a major ice storm," with trees toppling over and ice-covered power lines.

"This is our largest Christmas-week storm in our 126-year history, and it's our largest ice storm in the last 10 years," Consumers Energy spokeswoman Debra Dodd said. "We are working as hard as we can to get people back on. We recognize that this is a terrible time for this to happen."

She said a total of 303,000 customers were affected at one point by the weekend storms, as ice coated trees, roads and power lines. By Tuesday evening, that figure was down to 152,000, the Lansing State Journal reported.

"Unfortunately, what's happening is, because the temperatures are remaining below freezing, the ice is not melting," Dodd said. "Things are continuing to fail."

In Flint, the American Red Cross set up a warming shelter and a mobile food truck provided meals.

"What we're recommending is, if they don't have a relative they can stay with, that they call 211," Dodd said. "That puts them in contact with their nearest United Way agency."

The utility company said crews from as far away as Kansas and Washington, D.C., arrived Tuesday to help restore power, the Lansing State Journal said.

In East Lansing, Terry Brock, from Richmond, Va., was visiting his parents when the ice storm struck.

"I was basically up all night listening to transformers blow up and listening to branches fall all over the neighborhood," he said.

"There's no one to be angry at so I'm not going to be," said Brock, whose car was damaged by a falling limb. 

In New York State, Gov. Andrew Cuomo activated the state Emergency Operations Center and declared a winter ice storm emergency for western and northern areas, where about 25,000 people were without power Tuesday.

In Maine, nearly 70,000 people lost power, including a medical clinic in Bangor that forced walk-in patients to go elsewhere, the Bangor Daily News reports.

The newspaper said as many as 150,000 customers were affected, including those in entire towns such as Readfield, Islesboro, Frankofot and Penobscot.

Sharon Kiley Mack, executive director of the Machias Bay Chamber of Commerce, wrote in a Facebook post that the ice has taken its toll on the town: "Stand outside for a minute and all you can hear are crashing trees, falling branches and sirens."

Power was knocked out to downtown Ellsworth, Maine, which declared a state of emergency.

"Travel conditions are becoming life threatening with icy conditions paired with downed power lines and fallen trees," the town said in a statement. "Especially after sunset, it will become difficult to see the downed power lines and trees contributing to even more hazardous conditions."

In Vermont, almost 10,000 people were still without power on Tuesday. Vermont Electric Co-op CEO David Hallquist said ice continued to threaten power lines across the region and that co-op members living in the most isolated areas risk facing the longest outages, Vermont Public Radio reports.

"We think we're heading for a very dangerous situation, that we're going to have power outages probably through Christmas," said Hallquist. "And the temperatures are going to be dropping below zero."

In Canada, carbon monoxide poisoning likely killed five people using generators or barbecues to stay warm after losing power and heat.

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford said the city received about 110 carbon monoxide calls Monday -- six times more than on a normal day. Hospitals treated 11 people with signs of carbon monoxide poisoning.

About 90,000 customers were still awaiting power Tuesday evening, and officials said some may not have it restored until after Christmas.

Contributing: Oren Dorell in McLean, Va., Tammy Stables Battaglia, of the Detroit Free Press, Steven R. Reed, of the Lansing State Journal; Associated Press

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