Utility crews from Maine to Michigan and into Canada worked Wednesday to restore power to the more than half a million homes in the U.S. and Canada that were left in the dark by last weekend’s ice storm, and people slowly trickled out of shelters to spend Christmas Day at their finally warm homes.
But not everyone was so lucky, including Ashley Walter, who was forced to spend Christmas at a shelter set up in a school in Litchfield, Maine, with her husband, Jacob, and their month-old daughter, Leah.
The family lost power Saturday, got it back temporarily then lost it again Sunday and have been without since. Ashley, 27, and Leah stay warm at the shelter while Jacob makes frequent trips home to check on their cats and water pipes.
“It’s definitely kind of strange, but we’re hanging in there,” she said Wednesday of the challenge of being forced out of their home at Christmas. “We did our Christmas together last night. I packed little stockings and gave them to my husband, sisters and my daughter.”
The low temperatures that cloaked a region from the Great Lakes to New England meant that ice remained on power lines and limbs. Officials worried that wind gusts of more than 20 mph could bring down more branches and that 2 to 6 inches of snow in places today would hamper line crews trying to get to remote spots.
“We’ve had two beautiful, sunny days in Maine, and the ice isn’t going anyplace,” said Lynette Miller, spokeswoman for the Maine Emergency Management Agency. “They’re very concerned about more weight coming down on trees that are already compromised by ice.”
The ice storm last weekend was one of the worst to hit during a Christmas week, and repair crews were working round-the-clock to restore service. States that weren’t hit were sending crews to help.
Authorities blamed the storm for 17 deaths in the U.S. and 10 in Canada. Five people in Canada died from carbon-monoxide poisoning from emergency generators powering their homes, while two people in Michigan, a man in Maine and a man in Vermont also died from the poisonous fumes.
In Michigan, police said a woman died Christmas Eve when her vehicle ran a stoplight that was out of service because of the ice storm and collided with a pickup truck.
Tens of thousands of homes still were without power Wednesday evening in Michigan, down from more than 500,000 at the storm’s peak.
In Canada, about 160,000 customers were without power Wednesday evening. 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.
Back in Maine, Trudy Lamoreau was supervising the emergency shelter where about 25 people stayed Tuesday night. Lamoreau, who’s also the town manager, said they warmed the shelter with generators until the school got power back late Tuesday night. Maine still had about 60,000 people without power, down from a high of 106,000.
“People are doing quite well considering the circumstances,” she said.
Volunteers tried to make the shelter homey, including cooking up a ham dinner with potatoes, vegetables, bread and pie for dessert for Christmas.
“They have been amazing,” Walter said, adding that the volunteers set up a separate room for her and Leah so they wouldn’t disturb others when the infant woke during the night. “They just try to make everything better for us.”