Hundreds of thousands of ice storm victims hunkered down in frigid homes and shelters Thursday, expecting to spend at least a week without power and waiting in long lines to buy generators, firewood, groceries and bottled water.
Utility companies in Missouri, Kentucky, Ohio, Arkansas and West Virginia warned that many of the estimated 1.3 million homes and businesses left without electricity wouldn't have power back before Saturday at the earliest, and at worst, as late as mid-February.
Utilities typically count 3 or 4 people per home so the outage in terms of people is significantly greater than 1.3 million homes and businesses.
Already, the situation was becoming dire for some communities in Kentucky, where the power outages crippled pumping stations and cut off access to water.
Unsure about supplies
Tracie and Jeff Augustinovich drove 15 miles from their home in the western Kentucky town of Rock Castle to buy groceries. Their home had very little running water, and though they stocked up before the storm, they weren't sure their supplies will last.
"We're buying up anything that we can eat cold," Tracie Augustinovich said.
For heat, the couple were using a kerosene heater loaned to them by a friend — at least until the fuel runs out. When it does, she said, they would go to a shelter.
At a Pep Boys in Louisville, Jason Breckinridge scored one of the last 5,500-watt generators for his elderly parents after putting his name on a waiting list. "Man, this thing is huge," he said as he wedged it in the back seat, "but we'll find a way to get it out and get it hooked up."
Utility crews found themselves up against roads blocked by ice-caked power lines, downed trees and other debris. Help from around the country was arriving in convoys to assist the states with the worst outages. But with so many homes and businesses in the dark — there were more than 600,000 across Kentucky alone — the effort is still expected to take days, if not weeks.
The hardest-hit states were Kentucky and Arkansas, where 352,000 customers lacked power Thursday. Late Wednesday, President Barack Obama signed requests from Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear and Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe for federal emergency declarations.
The Kentucky outages set a record for that state, topping the black out caused last year by the remnants of Hurricane Ike.
Restore some, lose others
At a mall turned into a staging area in Barboursville, W.Va., crews in hard hats met alongside piles of poles, generators, wire and other supplies to find out where to go first.
"We're attacking it head on," said Appalachian Power spokesman Phil Moye. "As long as the ice is still on the trees, the storm is still here."
St. Louis-based AmerenUE said it had added 800 workers to its efforts to restore power in southeast Missouri, and another 800 were expected Friday.
"As we restore some, we're losing others. The ice is just so treacherous," said utility spokeswoman Susan Gallagher.
Hundreds of shelters opened their doors, and deputies in some communities went door to door to let people know where they were. Since phone service and Internet connections are spotty in many places, there wasn't another way. In Harrodsburg, Ky., where phone service was restored, residents were asked to call 911 if they needed transport to shelters.
Town worried about water
In Caruthersville, Mo., near the Tennessee border, church leaders and other volunteers knocked on the doors of the elderly and handicapped residents to make sure they were all right. A generator was in use to distribute some water in town, but Fire Chief Charlie Jones had concerns about what would happen when the temporary measure ran out.
"We're definitely worried about the community with no power, no water. Restaurants aren't open and there are no (open) fueling stations," he said.
At a Red Cross shelter in Louisville, Joy McKnight was waiting to be reuinted with her family. Her three grandchildren and the family dog were staying with friends, her daughter was putting in long hours as a security worker, and McKnight and her mother were staying at the shelter.
"I'm just taking it a day at a time," she said.
The storm has been blamed for at least 25 deaths, including six in Texas, four in Arkansas, three in Virginia, six in Missouri, two in Oklahoma, two in Indiana, and one each in West Virginia and Ohio.
Emergency officials feared that toll could rise if people stay in their homes without power for too long, because improper use of generators can cause carbon monoxide poisoning.
"I'm so worried that we're going to have a death due to hypothermia or carbon monoxide," said John Robinson, the severe weather coordinator for the National Weather Service at North Little Rock, Ark.
Sleeping in the F-150
Some decided to tough it out anyway. As icicles began to melt from the electrical wires and crashed to the ground Thursday, Jimmy Eason of Velvet Ridge, Ark., carefully walked across his yard to his Ford F-150, which was warmer than his one-story, white house.
"I'm sleeping in a car, which is just fine," Eason, 74, said. "There's nothing wrong with a car. Every couple of hours I turn it on, I let it run for 10 minutes and that keeps it pretty warm."
Eason was trying to avoid boredom, and drove to Burger King to get a meal because he was tired of eating cold soup. "It's kind of a chore to occupy your mind. I'm used to doing things and keeping busy. You just have to endure a couple of days and it will be all right," he said.
Tony Cipolla managed to keep warm by building a fire at his powerless home near Seneca Park in Louisville, cooking a pot of soup over a gas stove. But there wasn't a long-term plan for Cipolla and his two children, ages 5 and 9, if electricity wasn't soon restored.
"If it'll be a couple days, then we'll be in trouble," Cipolla told The Courier-Journal in Louisville, where temperatures dipped into the 20s overnight.
'Nonstop medley' of cracking tree limbs
Kyle Brashears' family rode out the storm in their Mountain Home, Ark., home before fleeing to relatives after half an ice-caked oak tree fell into their home.
"It caved the roof in and ripped the gutter off, although it didn't penetrate inside," he said. "I was walking around outside until about 1 a.m. and it was just a nonstop medley of tree limbs cracking off."
The utility Entergy Arkansas said that damage was "every bit as devastating in some areas as the twin ice storms of December 2000. Entergy Arkansas’ transmission network in north Arkansas suffered severe damage."
"We expect it to take at least a week before all our customers are back in service, maybe longer in some areas," Entergy operations director Brady Aldy said in a statement.
The storm moved east Wednesday, finally dumping more than a foot of snow in some parts of New England. Except for school cancellations and some airline delays and cancellations, the storm lost steam as it moved east.
In Ohio, passengers on an AirTran Airways flight were held up to 10 hours before finally taking off. Travelers in Columbus boarded Flight 373 for Orlando at a little before 7:30 a.m. Wednesday. Passengers say it took more than four hours for the plane to push out of the snow at the gate, then were delayed even more when deicing wouldn't work as freezing rain and snow fell.
People were allowed off the plane at lunchtime, then got back on board and sat for several more hours until AirTran gave up on the deicing and brought in another plane, passenger Tiara Berger said. AirTran spokesman Tad Hutcheson said the flight probably should have been canceled, and that the passengers will receive free roundtrip tickets.
Albany, N.Y., on Wednesday saw 20 percent of its typical annual snowfall in just one day, and temperatures there were not expected to get above freezing until Sunday.