Coming snow could slow power restoration efforts
LITCHFIELD, Maine (AP) — The ice that snapped utility poles and knocked out power to more than half a million people in the U.S. and Canada was stubbornly hanging on Wednesday as frigid temperatures cloaked a region from the Great Lakes to New England.
Utility crews from Maine to Michigan and into Canada made progress getting the lights back on Wednesday and people were slowly trickling out of shelters to spend Christmas Day at their finally-warm homes.
But the cold means ice isn't melting off lines and limbs, while wind gusts of more than 20 mph could bring down more branches. Two to 6 inches of snow in places on Thursday will hamper line crews trying to get to remote spots.
"We've had two beautiful, sunny days in Maine and the ice isn't going anyplace," said Lynette Miller, spokeswoman for the Maine Emergency Management Agency. "They're very concerned about more weight coming down on trees that are already compromised by ice."
Ashley Walter was still hunkered down with her husband, Jacob, and their month-old daughter, Leah, at a shelter set up in a school in Litchfield, Maine, where the temperature dropped to 4 degrees overnight and wasn't expected to get much higher than 15 on Wednesday.
The family lost power Saturday, got it back temporarily then lost it again Sunday and have been without since. Ashley, 27, and Leah stay warm at the shelter while Jacob makes frequent trips home to check on their cats and water pipes.
Despite the challenge of being forced out of the house, especially at Christmas, the family is staying positive. Ashley made sure they celebrated the holiday.
"It's definitely kind of strange but we're hanging in there," she said Wednesday. "We did our Christmas together last night. I packed little stockings and gave them to my husband, sisters and my daughter."
Trudy Lamoreau was supervising the emergency shelter where about 25 people stayed Tuesday night. Lamoreau, who's also the town manager, said they warmed the shelter with generators until the school got power back late Tuesday night. Maine still had about 60,000 people without power, down from a high of 106,000.
"People are doing quite well considering the circumstances," she said.
The ice storm last weekend was one of the worst to hit during a Christmas week and repair crews were working around the clock to restore service. States that weren't hit were sending crews to help.
In Michigan, about 156,000 people were still without power Wednesday afternoon, down from more than 500,000 at the storm's peak. Snow is falling across most of the state and temperatures are in the teens and 20s.
So far, authorities blame the storm for 25 deaths; 15 in the U.S. and 10 in Canada, including five who apparently died from carbon monoxide poisoning. In Michigan, police say a 73-year-old woman died Christmas Eve when she ran a stop light that was out of service because of the ice storm.
In Canada, about 160,000 customers were without power Wednesday. There were 72,000 customers without power in Toronto, down from 300,000 at the height of the outages, and Mayor Rob Ford said some may not have power restored until the weekend.
Back at the shelter in Maine, volunteers have tried to make it homey. For Christmas Day, they cooked up a ham dinner with potatoes, vegetables, bread and pie for dessert.
"They have been amazing," Walter said, adding that the volunteers set up a separate room for her and Leah so they wouldn't disturb others when the infant woke during the night. "They just try to make everything better for us."