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Storms, downed power lines leave many in the dark over Christmas

All that tens of thousands of people really wanted for Christmas was to have their electricity back after fierce ice storms felled power lines in a wide swath from Michigan through parts of upstate New York, New England and Canada.

More than half a million customers lost power when ice storms coupled with ferocious winds toppled power lines beginning last weekend. Repair crews from utilities across the region, helped by out-of-state workers, toiled to fix the lines, but tens of thousands of customers remained without power Wednesday. In the hardest-hit areas, full restoration may not come until Thursday or even Friday, officials said.

Much of the nation enjoyed a white Christmas, according to the National Weather Service.

Calm weather came with frigid temperatures and snow that slowed repair efforts. The cold meant that the ice that has been weighing down power lines, causing them to snap, would persist.

Two to 6 inches of snow were forecast for Thursday in some places, as were winds of up to 20 mph, which could hamper repair crews.

The number of customers in Maine who at one point lost power jumped to more than 123,000 since Monday's storms. Central Maine Power, which said it had increased its repair staff to 1,800 overnight, also reported that it had reduced the number without electricity to 40,000 by late Wednesday afternoon, down from 87,000 in the morning, utility spokeswoman Gail Rice said.

Many of the added repair people came from out of state, Rice said. The goal was to get the number of customers without power down to about 30,000 Wednesday, and put the rest, mainly in rural or inaccessible areas, back on line within days.

In Michigan, about 150,000 people remained without power Wednesday afternoon, down from more than 500,000 at the storm's peak. Snow continued to fall across much of the state and temperatures dropped into the 20s and even the teens in some places.

Michigan's largest utility, Consumers Energy, said via Twitter that the number of its accounts without power had dropped to 118,000. Earlier, it said repair crews were fighting through snow and wind, so improvements were coming slowly. DTE Energy reported about 20,000 customers without power in its coverage area, which includes Detroit.

Authorities blame the storm for 25 deaths: 15 in the United States and 10 in Canada, including five who died apparently from carbon monoxide poisoning.

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.

Delivering electricity wasn't the only problem. Shipping difficulties at United Parcel Service and FedEx prevented some gifts from finding their spot under the tree by Christmas morning.

The delays were blamed on poor weather and overloaded delivery systems. The number of packages affected was unclear, but officials said it was probably relatively few.

"UPS is experiencing heavy holiday volume and making every effort to get packages to their destination; however, the volume of air packages in our system exceeded the capacity of our network immediately preceding Christmas, so some shipments were delayed," the company said in an online advisory Wednesday.

FedEx said it was contacting some customers who might be able to pick up packages at local stores.

Both companies expected to be back to full service by Thursday.

michael.muskal@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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