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December 25, 2013

Cold stays put as utilities work to get power back

AUGUSTA, Maine — Roads remained slick and utility crews were busy trying to turn the lights back on from the Midwest to the Northeast on one of the busiest travel days of the year after a messy storm rolled across the country.

At least 11 people have been killed in the storm that started Saturday and lingered into late Monday, ice building up on tree branches and power lines and causing travel headaches in several states.

While the rain, freezing rain and ice was expected to subside, forecasters said cold temperatures would stick around for most of the week in areas socked by the wild weekend storm. There will be snow moving into the Northern High Plains and Central Rockies on Tuesday then sliding into the Great Lakes and Midwest by Wednesday morning.

States kept emergency shelters open for people who would be without power, some through Christmas.

Rain and melting snow led to swelling creeks and streams, closed roads and flooded underpasses in Indiana, Ohio and other Great Lakes states. Some creeks were 4 to 9 feet above flood stage and expected to subside by Tuesday.

More than 390,000 homes and businesses were still without power Monday in Michigan, upstate New York and northern New England, down from Sunday’s peak of more than half a million. About 310,000 were in Michigan late Monday, whose largest utilities said it’ll be days before power is restored because of the difficulty of working around broken lines.

In Maine, the number of customers without power spiked to more than 78,000, and the cold persisted.

“It’s certainly not going away,” Margaret Curtis, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gray, Maine, said Monday. “In fact, we don’t have very many areas where we’re expecting temperatures to rise above freezing.”

That means untreated roads and sidewalks from the upper Midwest to northern New England will remain a slippery, dangerous mess as people head out for last-second shopping or holiday travel.

In Maine, Judith Martin was heading from her home in South Grafton, Mass., to Kingston when she stopped at a rest area along Interstate 95 in West Gardiner. She said roads got worse the farther north she drove.

“The trees are loaded with ice, so it makes me think the road is loaded with ice,” Martin said.

Five people died in flooding in Kentucky and a woman was killed after a tornado with winds of 130 mph struck in Arkansas. Another woman died in Arkansas when she lost control of her vehicle on an icy patch of an interstate. A Vermont man died from carbon monoxide poisoning caused by a generator that was running after the storm knocked out power at his house, state police said.

More than 5,500 flights were behind schedule by Monday evening, the majority of those in New York, Washington, Chicago, Denver, Dallas and Houston.

And more than 300 flights were canceled, mostly in Chicago, Denver, Houston and Dallas, aviation data company FlightAware said. The number is in line with a typical travel day and much improved from Sunday’s 700 cancellations. There are usually more than 30,000 daily flights in the United States.

Delta Air Lines said a taxiway that may have frozen over was suspected in an accident at Detroit Metropolitan Airport: An Atlanta-bound jetliner slid onto the grass, but no one was hurt.

While the cold will continue to harass people, there’s no major precipitation on the horizon through the end of the week, Curtis said.

“It will give people some time to recover from this,” she said.

Meanwhile, flooding in Indiana and Ohio, parts of which got 3 to 5 inches of rain over the weekend, caused no reported injuries but forced small-scale evacuations and closed several roads. Flooding in southwestern Pennsylvania damaged about 300 toys a Salvation Army set aside for needy families, but churches and other charities donated replacements.

On Monday, some 25,000 customers were without power in New York’s St. Lawrence County, where almost 2 inches of ice fell Sunday, coating tree limbs and power lines.

The winter weather was far from nationwide, though. Record high temperatures were reached in some Mid-Atlantic states this weekend, but forecasts called for drops back to the mid-30s.

———

Associated Press writers Mary Esch in Albany, N.Y., Holly Ramer in Concord, N.H., Bruce Shipkowski in Trenton, N.J., Ken Miller in Oklahoma City, David Goodman in Detroit, Rick Callahan in Indianapolis, Steve Karnowski in Minneapolis and Scott Mayerowitz in New York City contributed to this report.

 

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