LITCHFIELD, Maine – Utility crews from Maine to Michigan and into Canada worked Wednesday to restore power to hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses 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 in a school in Litchfield with her husband, Jacob Walter, and their month-old daughter, Leah.
The family lost power on Saturday, got it back and then lost it again Sunday. Ashley Walter and Leah stay warm at the shelter while Jacob Walter 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 frigid temperatures that cloaked a region from the Great Lakes to New England meant that ice remained on power lines and tree 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 on Thursday 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,” Maine Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Lynette Miller said. “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 around 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, many attributed to carbon monoxide poisoning from emergency generators powering homes. In Michigan, police said a woman died Christmas Eve when her vehicle ran a stop light that was out of service because of the ice storm and collided with a pickup truck.
Tens of thousands of homes were still without power on Wednesday in Michigan, down from more than 500,000 at the storm’s peak; in Maine, down from more than 100,000; and in Toronto, down from 300,000.
In Litchfield, 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.
“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.
Ashley Walter said the volunteers had been “amazing,” setting 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,” she said.
Associated Press writers David Goodman in Detroit and Rik Stevens in Concord, N.H., contributed to this report.