US storm leaves 500,000 without power

Utility crews were working feverishly to restore power to hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses in the eastern US after an ice storm knocked out electricity to more than a million customers, damage one official likened to that from a hurricane.

The Northeast’s second winter storm of the week dumped more than a foot (30 cms) of snow in some states on Wednesday, forcing schools, businesses and government offices to close, hitting air travel and sending cars and trucks sliding on slippery roads.

What made this storm stand out – and caused all those power cuts – was the thick coating of ice it left on trees and power lines. While the storm has long since cleared out, its effects are expected to linger for days.

“People are going to have to have some patience at this point,” Governor Tom Corbett said, warning that an overnight refreeze could cause more problems on the roads today. The governor issued a disaster emergency proclamation, freeing up state agencies to use all available resources and personnel.

At its height, the storm knocked out power to nearly 849,000 customers in Pennsylvania, most of them in the counties around Philadelphia. Though sizeable, it’s still less than the nearly 1.8 million that were left without power after Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

PECO, southeastern Pennsylvania’s dominant utility, warned it could be until the weekend before the lights come back on for all of its more than 431,000 customers without power. FirstEnergy was reporting almost 49,000 customers without power, while PPL was reporting more than 20,000.

In neighbouring Maryland, where 76,000 customers were in the dark, power companies gave a restoration estimate of Friday. More than 7,000 New Jersey customers also lacked electricity.

Officials pleaded with people not to use generators or gas grills indoors after 20 to 25 people in the Philadelphia area were taken to hospitals with carbon monoxide poisoning.

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