Storm leaves over a million huddled in icy darkness

Well over a million people shivered in ice-bound homes across the country Wednesday, waiting for warmer weather and for utility crews to restring power lines brought down by a storm that killed 23 as it took a snowy, icy journey from the Southern Plains to the East Coast.

But with temperatures plunging, utility officials warned that it could be mid-February before electricity is restored to some of the hardest-hit places. The worst of the power failures were in Kentucky, Arkansas and Ohio.

Just getting to their source was difficult for utility crews. Ice-encrusted tree limbs and power lines blocked glazed roads, and cracking limbs pierced the air like popping gunfire as they snapped.

In Kentucky, National Guard soldiers were dispatched to remove the debris. Oklahoma, already struggling to restore power there, planned to send crews to help in Arkansas later in the week.

"It looks like a tornado came through, but there wasn't a path; it was everywhere," said Mel Coleman, the chief executive officer of the North Arkansas Electric Cooperative in Salem. The power is out at his house, too, and he spent Tuesday night in a chair at his office.

The storm was "worse than we ever imagined," he said.

Kyle Brashears' family rode out the storm in their Mountain Home, Ark., home before fleeing to relatives after half an ice-caked oak tree fell into their home.

"It caved the roof in and ripped the gutter off, although it didn't penetrate inside," he said. "I was walking around outside until about 1 a.m. and it was just a nonstop medley of tree limbs cracking off."

The number of homes and businesses without power totaled around 1.4 million Wednesday evening, in a swath of states from Oklahoma to West Virginia. Arkansas had more than 350,000 customers in the dark; Kentucky had about a half-million. The actual number of people affected the power failures could be much higher.

Since the storm began building Monday, the weather has been blamed for at least six deaths in Texas, four in Arkansas, three in Virginia, six in Missouri, two in Oklahoma, and one each in Indiana and Ohio.

Delays or cancellations were reported at airports including those serving Columbus, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, New York and Boston. Commuters on highways encountered a slushy mess.

Without power

The figures from utility companies, as of Wednesday evening:

Arkansas: 356,000

Illinois: 6,500

Indiana: 117,000

Kentucky: 525,000

Missouri: 100,000

Ohio: 172,000

Oklahoma: 27,000

Tennessee: 11,500

West Virginia: 53,000

TOTAL: 1.37 million

Storm leaves over a million huddled in icy darkness 01/28/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 28, 2009 10:55pm]

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