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Power Outages Linger in New England, Michigan As States Prepare for New Storm

January 2, 2014

PORTLAND, Maine  — With frigid temperatures descending upon the region, cold and weary utility crews worked Monday to finish restoring electricity for customers who've been in the dark for more than a week as another winter storm takes aim at the region.

For John Phillips, an Ellsworth resident who has been living without electricity since Winter Storm Gemini hit the weekend before Christmas, the novelty of living like "Little House on the Prairie" wore off long ago.

(MORE: Snowstorm Targets Northeast, Midwest)

"Being without lights makes it pioneer-like," Phillips said Monday. "It gets old after a day or two, I can assure you."

A Sunday snowstorm caused an additional 6,000 power outages in Maine and brought the month's snow total in Portland to 26.2 inches, more than double the snowfall in the typical December.

And the new year could start the way the old one ended, with another snowstorm projected for Thursday and Friday.

The anticipated snowstorm brought the possibility of still more power outages for utility crews who've been run ragged since an ice storm that started the weekend before Christmas caused a slow-moving disaster. Subzero and single-digit temperatures Monday night were going to add to the misery.

"We're concerned about our crews. A lot of these guys are tired. They're away from their families. They're getting as much rest as they can but it takes a toll," said Bob Potts from Bangor Hydro Electric Co.

More than 100,000 utility customers lost power during the ice storm.

In Michigan, angry residents packed a Lansing City Council meeting Monday night to slam the municipal power company's handling of widespread outages from an ice storm nine days earlier.

The Lansing Board of Water & Light said about 800 homes and businesses remained offline Monday in the aftermath of the Dec. 21 storm. In all, about 40,000 of its customers, or 40 percent, lost power at one point or another.

Residents lined up to give short, angry speeches accusing the power system's management of failing to communicate and lagging in its response to the outages.

"Let's hold them accountable for their incompetence," said Kyle Shumaker, 28.

Consumers Energy Corp. and DTE Energy Co., the state's largest utilities, say they have fully restored power to those affected by the storm. In all, 666,000 Michigan homes and businesses were blacked out and at least five people died in the storm.

Over the weekend, Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero directed police and fire personnel to conduct door-to-door welfare checks in areas without power. They're expected to continue until service is restored, MLive.com reported.

(MORE: Arctic Blast for Midwest)

"As this crisis continues, please help us reach out to your neighbors, especially senior citizens, disabled citizens and families with young children, who may still be trying to stay in a cold home," Bernero said.

Michigan authorities blame the storm for three crash deaths and the deaths of two people from carbon monoxide fumes emitted by emergency generators.

In eastern Maine, nearly 400 customers remained in the dark Monday night and Bangor Hydro expected to finish its restoration work by New Year's Day — 10 days after the power outages began.

Central Maine Power had restored power to all of those that lost it in last week's ice storm, but another 5,000 customers lost electricity Sunday night. All but about 700 customers had their power back by Monday night.

Phillips, who serves as mayor in Ellsworth, wasn't immune to the power outages that left the entire city in the dark for a time.

"It's very frustrating to see everyone get their power back, but we're still out," said Phillips, whose generator went kaput on Christmas Eve.

He brought in a portable unit to run a furnace to keep his house warm and prevent pipes from breaking and said he was spending $50 to $60 a day in generator fuel.

Andrew Sankey, director of the Hancock County Emergency Management Agency, said that utility crews have done their best under tough circumstances to restore power and emergency management officials have done their best to provide shelter for those who need it.

"These circumstances have the potential to bring out the best in people," he said Monday. "Communities come together. Neighbors check on each other."

The ice has caused other problems, including closing a major bridge across the Penobscot River.

(WATCH: How to Avoid Frostbite)

The Maine Department of Transportation closed the Penobscot Narrows Bridge Sunday after one vehicle was destroyed and four to five sustained damage by ice chunks falling 300 feet from above. No one was hurt.

Crews weren't able to knock off the ice from the cables using a crane Monday, but transportation officials determined that the remaining ice will stay there because of the low temperatures and the bridge reopened Monday night, said spokesman Ted Talbot. The bridge will be closed again sometime this weekend to attempt to clear the remaining ice.

MORE: Winter Storm Gemini Photos

Jim Ridley uses a flashlight to get his mail Thursday, Dec. 26, 2013, in Litchfield, Maine, where he has been without electricity since Monday's ice storm. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

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