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Published: 12/25/2013

All thousands want for Christmas is electricity

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Andrew Powers, an arborist with Asplundh Tree Experts, clears iced branches from power lines along Mayflower Heights Drive in Waterville, Maine, on Monday. Andrew Powers, an arborist with Asplundh Tree Experts, clears iced branches from power lines along Mayflower Heights Drive in Waterville, Maine, on Monday.
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Ted and Angela Montgomery had planned to entertain family and friends this Christmas at their home in Lapeer, north of Detroit. But an ice storm knocked out their lights and heat on Sunday and it hadn’t returned by Christmas Eve.

“We’ve just been using our fireplace, using the one in the great room and that’s been keeping it pretty decent,” Ted Montgomery, 61, said. “We planned a little family gathering we had to cancel.”

Montgomery headed for shelter in a hotel Tuesday, something Doug Jennings in Central Maine was considering.

They were among the half-million utility customers — from Maine to Michigan and into Canada — who lost power in an ice storm last weekend one utility called the worst during Christmas week in its history. Repair crews were working around the clock to restore service, but, like Jennings, thousands prepared for a holiday at home without electricity or packed up their wrapped gifts and stayed with family or friends.

At his home near Augusta, Jennings had only a propane stove to heat his home — with visitors in town.

“It’s going to be problematic. We’re going to have to do something about it, go to a hotel or whatever,” Jennings said. “But we have Christmas food that’s probably going to be all bad. My wife says ‘I don’t feel like doing the kids’ stockings or anything.’”

It appears the bad weather isn’t ready to take a break. More snow is forecast to roll into the Great Lakes and Midwest by early oday, the National Weather Service said.

The death toll from the weekend storm reached at least 14 on Tuesday, when a 50-year-old man in Knox, Maine, was overcome by carbon monoxide fumes from a generator. Police in Michigan also attributed two deaths in a traffic collision Monday to the storm.

Trees frozen in ice cripple a section of power lines on Maplehurst Drive  in Belgrade, Maine, Tuesday. Trees frozen in ice cripple a section of power lines on Maplehurst Drive in Belgrade, Maine, Tuesday.
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The number of customers in Maine without power spiked to more than 100,000 on Tuesday. Central Maine Power said its goal was to use more than 1,000 workers to restore power for all customers by Thursday night, while other utilities in Maine warned customers they could be without electricity until Friday.

Across the border in Canada, Toronto officials said 90,000 customers were without power Tuesday — down from 300,000 at the height of the outages.

In Michigan, Jackson-based Consumers Energy — the state’s largest utility — said it hadn’t had this many outages during any Christmas week in its 126-year history. Close to 17 percent of its 1.8 million electric customers lost power during the storm that hit late Saturday; roughly 152,000 remained without it Tuesday evening.

Ken Fuller runs a generator repair shop in Lansing, Mich., where more than 13,000 people were without power Tuesday. He typically closes by noon on Christmas Eve, but at 12:30 p.m. he was cleaning out a broken generator’s carburetor — and had five more waiting to be serviced.

“The temperature outside is 15 to 20 degrees,” Fuller said. “Christmas is going to have to take second fiddle right now because houses are getting cold, freezing water pipes.”

That was the concern that John Potbury and his family faced outside Flint. They lost electricity at 6 a.m. Sunday and have been living in a single bedroom warmed by generator-powered space heaters. The lights on their tree, of course were dark.

“Even though the house is freezing cold, the freezer items were starting to thaw out,” Potbury said.

But Potbury’s kids, 8-year-old Jacob and 5-year-old Jackson, kept things in perspective, telling their dad Tuesday that “Santa runs on reindeer power, not electricity, so he should be OK.”



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