Ice storm's wake leaves power customers in dark

MARK SCOLFORO RON TODT Associated Press Published:

PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- Utility crews aren't getting much relief from the weather as they work to restore electricity to hundreds of thousands of people in Pennsylvania and Maryland still without service two days after an ice storm downed power lines and trees.

The cold weather gripping the mid-Atlantic on Friday should remain in place through the weekend, and snow was possible, forecasters said.

Utility companies reported more than 320,000 customers without power in Pennsylvania. More than 286,000 customers were out at midday Friday in the five-county Philadelphia area, where many schools closed for a third straight day.

More than 30,000 customers were also without power in York County in central Pennsylvania. In Maryland, service was been restored to all but about 30,000 homes and businesses.

Officials have said they hope to have most of them back online by the end of the day Friday, but in some cases it may take much of the weekend -- when the weather could continue to hamper restoration of service to the last of the more than 1 million customers who lost power.

Crews from as far away as Canada and Arkansas have been called in to help out, and officials are comparing the scope of the damage to a hurricane. Some who might not get power back for several days sought warmth -- or at least somewhere to recharge their batteries -- in shopping malls, public libraries and hastily established shelters.

Amtrak, meanwhile, says full service between Philadelphia and Harrisburg is being restored today after tracks have been cleared of fallen trees and debris, but riders may see delays of up to one-half hour.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett said after an aerial survey of the storm's aftermath on Thursday that crews put a priority on restoring electricity to hospitals, nursing homes, communications facilities and sewer plants.

"This storm is in some respects as bad or maybe even worse than Hurricane Sandy," he said during an appearance in the Philadelphia suburbs. He said a shipment of electrical generators from the federal government was on its way to Pennsylvania.

He said he was urging electric utilities "to move as fast as they can, but they have to do it within the parameters of safety."

About 200 people took advantage of seven shelters in three suburban Philadelphia counties, according to the American Red Cross of Southeastern Pennsylvania. Shelters also were open in central Pennsylvania.

The Northeast's second winter storm of the week dumped more than a foot of snow in some places on Wednesday, forcing schools, businesses and government offices to close, snarling air travel and sending cars and trucks sliding on slippery roads and highways. It also left a thick coating of ice on trees and power lines.

"Many of them already had a coating of snow on them," said Mark Durbin, a spokesman for the utility FirstEnergy. "It's that weight that crushes our equipment. Multiply that by hundreds of locations."

Corbett said utility companies were ramping up to have about 5,000 people working to reconnect customers.

Thursday saw the lower 48 states record what is likely to be their lowest average temperature of the season, just 11 degrees.

Forecasters said it would remain chilly through the weekend in the mid-Atlantic, with daytime highs around freezing and overnight lows in the teens. Light snow was expected over the weekend.