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Thousands in dark in Ga., SC days after ice storm

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    Ben Ziegler loads firewood into his truck to keep his family warm due to the power outages caused by an ice storm this week.

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    A Power crew work to restore power on a line that was damaged due an ice storm this week Friday, Feb. 14, 2014, at US Highway 1 in Aiken, SC. For thousands of South Carolina residents, it will be a long wait to get the power back. About 295,000 customers in the state weathered another night in the dark, and officials warned it could be next week before power is back on for everyone. (AP Photo/Mary Ann Chastain)

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    Power crews assemble at a grocery store that was close due to the power outages caused by an ice storm this week Friday, Feb. 14, 2014, in Evans, Ga. Nearly a million homes and businesses in Georgia lost power after a storm blanketed the region with snow and ice, but most had power restored by Friday morning. Georgia utility companies said a total of 989,400 customers lost power in the wake of this week's storm. About 175,000 customers were still without service Friday morning. (AP Photo/Mary Ann Chastain)

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    Trip Farmer, right, makes a snowman with help from Caleb McAlister in the St. Elmo neighborhood of Chattanooga, Tenn. on Thurdsay, Feb. 13, 2014. Farmer said the overnight snow was much better for making snowmen than from the previous snow fall, used to make the one at right. (AP Photo/Chattanooga Times Free Press, John Rawlston)

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    Stan and Tedda Howard work to clear fallen limbs from their pasture fence as they have been without power since this weeks ice storm Friday, Feb. 14, 2014, in Williston, SC. For thousands of South Carolina residents, it will be a long wait to get the power back. About 295,000 customers in the state weathered another night in the dark, and officials warned it could be next week before power is back on for everyone. (AP Photo/Mary Ann Chastain)

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  • APTOPIX-Winter-Weather-12

    A pedestrian walks along a snow-covered street, Friday, Feb. 14, 2014, in Albany, N.Y. Schools are closed across a swath of eastern New York from the mid-Hudson Valley to the Albany area as the region starts to dig out from 12 to 20 inches of snow dumped by the latest winter storm. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

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  • Winter-Weather-73

    Don Smith uses pole saw to clear the fallen limbs that landed on his power line caused by an ice storm this week Friday, Feb. 14, 2014, at his home in Williston, SC. For thousands of South Carolina residents, it will be a long wait to get the power back. About 295,000 customers in the state weathered another night in the dark, and officials warned it could be next week before power is back on for everyone. (AP Photo/Mary Ann Chastain)

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  • APTOPIX-Turnpike-Crash-1

    Vehicles are piled up in an accident Friday, Feb. 14, 2014, in Bensalem, Pa. Traffic accidents involving multiple tractor trailers and dozens of cars have completely blocked one side of the Pennsylvania Turnpike outside Philadelphia and caused some injuries. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

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  • APTOPIX-Winter-Weather-Pennsylvania

    Good Samaritans help push a stranded motorist stuck in deep snow on Stefko Boulevard Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014 in Bethlehem, Pa. A wide swath of Pennsylvania awoke Thursday to a fresh coating of snow and a forecast for much more to come over the course of the day. (AP Photo/Chris Post)

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Winter-Weather-68

Ben Ziegler loads firewood into his truck to keep his family warm due to the power outages caused by an ice storm this week.

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WILLISTON, S.C. — Ben Ziegler frowned grimly as he used borrowed equipment to cut firewood for his home on the third day without power to keep his wife and 14-month-old daughter along with a neighbor family of five warm.

“I got tired of this about five minutes after the lights went out,” the 33-year-old U.S. Army veteran said at a firewood stand near his Evans, Ga., neighborhood.

Despite their weariness, Ziegler and thousands of others in east Georgia and western and southern South Carolina may be without power for several more days. The nasty winter storm that blew through the South and eventually barreled up the East Coast dumped a tree-splitting, utility-pole-snapping inch of ice on the area and many, including South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, compared the damage to the aftermath of a hurricane.

“I didn’t know this was going to be in the same realm as Hugo,” Haley, who toured damaged areas Friday, said of the hurricane that struck in 1989. “To look at these neighborhoods and see the trees down and on houses — to see all of the devastation that’s happened to this community — is terrible.”

The same system dumped more than a foot or two of snow on parts of several states and was blamed for more than two dozen deaths, closed schools, snarled air traffic, caused countless crashed and delayed thousands of flower deliveries on Valentine’s Day.

The longest-lasting effect, however, was power.

About 1.2 million utility customers from the South to Northeast lost power at some point during from the South through the Northeast. That dramatically dropped to about 465,000 outages by Friday morning, mostly in South Carolina and Georgia. The numbers did keep dropping, but life without electricity after a third day was becoming a hassle.

With roads finally thawed out, many in the hardest hit areas were able to finally leave their homes. But there weren’t too many places to go. Few stores were open because they didn’t have power either.

Dollar General stores across the region let people shop by flashlight, but were only taking cash because they had no way of scanning credit cards. Intersections became risky games of chicken because traffic lights were out and deputies were elsewhere trying to help clear trees and limbs off roads and checking on older people and the sick.

Losing power in a rural area often means losing water, too. Many residents are on wells with pumps that need electricity to operate. Some people had buckets out to catch the melting ice so they could use the water to flush their toilets.

Tedda and Stan Howard were ready to wait a long time to get their power back from Aiken Electric Cooperative. During the day, they cut down broken branches and repaired fences so their goats wouldn’t escape from their 56 acres near Williston. At night, they huddle around the propane heater and played chess by candlelight. They had a neighbor who had power and offered them a warm shower.

“That ought to be enough. Hopefully they’ll have it back on by the weekend,” Tedda Howard said.

That seemed doubtful. Power lines were sagging to the ground or snapped in more than a dozen places on the two-lane highway by their home.

One coastal South Carolina electric cooperative lost 50 poles in the ice storm, compared to 21 in the last hurricane, officials said.

“With a hurricane, the storm blows through, does its damage and it’s gone. An ice storm is like a hurricane followed by a series of mini-hurricanes. You restore power to an area, but then the ice comes back and the same area goes down again,” said Bob Paulling, CEO of Mid-Carolina Electric Cooperative in Lexington.

Rural areas were hit the hardest and their geography means it will be much more difficult to get power restored, said Mark Quinn, spokesman for the South Carolina co-ops. In urban areas, one fix of a power line often turns electric back on for thousands of customers.

“Not only do you have less customers per line, but the terrain is also much tougher,” Quinn said. “We’re exposed more than any other utility.”

But for most folks, being without power was more of an annoyance. People told about learning that their tablet computer wouldn’t recharge with their car charger or were upset their DVR was missing recording their favorite shows.

Ziegler says he lives in the South in part so he doesn’t have to deal with winter weather that has been particularly harsh this season all over the country. Two storms in two weeks have been too much. The frown returned when he was told the Farmer’s Almanac predicted one final Southern winter storm for the end of the month.

“One storm was too much,” Ziegler said. “I’m ready to wear my shorts again.”

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