Power restoration in snowy East could take days

Oct 31 2011 - 12:31pm

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A worker from Connecticut Light & Power inspects a downed power line on Route 5 in South Windsor, Conn., Monday, Oct. 31, 2011. The unseasonably early nor'easter had utility companies struggling to restore electricity to more than 3 million homes and businesses. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Highway crews work to clean up downed limbs from a weekend snowstorm, Monday, Oct. 31, 2011 in Auburn, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
Workers from the Connecticut Department of Transportation remove a traffic signal that had fall from a downed line on Route 5 in South Windsor, Conn., Monday, Oct. 31, 2011. The unseasonably early nor'easter had utility companies struggling to restore electricity to more than 3 million homes and businesses. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
A crew restores power while working on a power line in Ridgewood, N.J., Sunday, Oct. 31, 2011. Millions of people from Maine to Maryland are without power after an unseasonably early nor'easter dumped heavy, wet snow over the weekend on a region more used to gaping at leaves in October than shoveling snow. (AP Photo/The Record of Bergen County, Amy Newman)
PSE&G underground lineman Bob Wyman makes a temporary repair to restore electricity to a home in Verona, Essex County, New Jersey, on Sunday, Oct. 30, 2011. A powerful Nor'easter dumped snow and caused widespread power outages in New Jersey. (AP Photo/David Gard)
A worker from Connecticut Light & Power inspects a downed power line on Route 5 in South Windsor, Conn., Monday, Oct. 31, 2011. The unseasonably early nor'easter had utility companies struggling to restore electricity to more than 3 million homes and businesses. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Highway crews work to clean up downed limbs from a weekend snowstorm, Monday, Oct. 31, 2011 in Auburn, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
Workers from the Connecticut Department of Transportation remove a traffic signal that had fall from a downed line on Route 5 in South Windsor, Conn., Monday, Oct. 31, 2011. The unseasonably early nor'easter had utility companies struggling to restore electricity to more than 3 million homes and businesses. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
A crew restores power while working on a power line in Ridgewood, N.J., Sunday, Oct. 31, 2011. Millions of people from Maine to Maryland are without power after an unseasonably early nor'easter dumped heavy, wet snow over the weekend on a region more used to gaping at leaves in October than shoveling snow. (AP Photo/The Record of Bergen County, Amy Newman)
PSE&G underground lineman Bob Wyman makes a temporary repair to restore electricity to a home in Verona, Essex County, New Jersey, on Sunday, Oct. 30, 2011. A powerful Nor'easter dumped snow and caused widespread power outages in New Jersey. (AP Photo/David Gard)

HARTFORD, Conn. -- Residents across the Northeast faced the prospect of days without electricity or heat Monday after an early-season storm dumped as much as 30 inches of wet, heavy snow that snapped trees and power lines, closed hundreds of schools, and disrupted plans for Halloween trick-or-treating.

Communities from Maryland to Maine that suffered through a tough winter last year followed by a series of floods and storms went into now-familiar emergency mode as roads closed, shelters opened and regional transit was suspended or delayed.

The storm's lingering effects, including power failures and hundreds of closed schools, will probably outlast the snow. Temperatures are expected to begin rising Monday and the snow will start melting, the National Weather Service said.

The early nor'easter had utility companies struggling to restore electricity to more than 3 million homes and businesses. By early Monday, the number without power was still above 2 million but falling. But officials in some states warned it could be days or even a week before residents have power again.

Trees, branches and power lines still littered roads and rail lines, leading to a tough Monday morning commute for many. Motorists hunted for open gas stations as power failures rendered pumps inoperable; at a 7-Eleven in Hartford, two dozen cars waited early Monday in a line that stretched into the street and disrupted traffic.

"There's no gas anywhere," said Debra Palmisano, of Plainville, who spent most of the morning looking around the capital city. "It's like we're in a war zone. It's pretty scary, actually."

Some local officials canceled or postponed Halloween activities, fearful that young trick-or-treaters could wander into areas with downed power lines or trees ready to topple over.

"With so many wires down ... the sidewalks will not be safe for pedestrians (Monday) night," Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton told The Hartford Courant.

The snowstorm smashed record snowfall totals for October and worsened as it moved north. Communities in western Massachusetts were among the hardest hit. Snowfall totals topped 27 inches in Plainfield, and nearby Windsor got 26 inches.

In New Hampshire's capital of Concord, more than 22 inches fell, weeks ahead of the usual first measurable snowfall. States of emergency were declared in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey and parts of New York.

West Milford, N.J., about 45 miles northwest of New York City, had 19 inches Sunday. Gov. Chris Christie declared statewide damage to utilities worse than that wrought by Hurricane Irene, a deadly storm that blew through the state in August.

Things were similar in Connecticut, where the power loss of 800,000 broke a record set by Irene. By early Monday, around 400,000 people lacked power in New Jersey and more than 750,000 in Connecticut.

Compounding the storm's impact were unfallen leaves, which gave the snow something extra to hang onto and loaded branches with tremendous weight, snapping them off and sending them plunging onto power lines and across roads and homes.

"Look at this, look at all the damage," said Jennifer Burckson, 49, after she came outside Sunday morning in South Windsor to find that a massive branch had smashed her car's back windshield. Branches on trees that didn't break were weighed down so much that their leaves brushed snow on the ground.

Along the coast and in such cities as Boston, the relatively warm ocean helped keep snowfall totals much lower. Washington received a trace of snow, tying a 1925 record for the date. New York City's Central Park set a record for both the date and for October with 1.3 inches -- not much by normal standards but enough to threaten 1,000 trees in the sprawling urban reserve.

The snowstorm was blamed for at least 12 deaths, mostly caused by falling trees, traffic accidents or electrocutions. Six people died in Pennsylvania alone.

Amtrak had suspended service on several routes, and one train from Chicago to Boston got stuck overnight in Palmer, Mass. The 48 passengers had food and heat, a spokeswoman said, and were taken by bus Sunday to their destinations.

North of New York City, dozens of motorists were rescued by state troopers after spending 10 hours or more stranded on snowy highways in Dutchess and Putnam counties. Dimitra Richardson and her son Dana, of Malverne, N.Y., were among them.

"It couldn't be helped; nature acts whenever it wants," said Richardson, an 82-year-old retired literature professor and dean at Adelphi University. "The authorities tried their best, but it seems like they were totally unprepared."

In the New York village that was the setting of Washington Irving's Gothic tale "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," officials posted online that the town's annual Haunted Hayride was called off because of broken limbs and dangling branches along the route.

Sharon Martovich of Southbury, Conn., who was grocery shopping Sunday morning in nearby Newtown at one of the few businesses open for miles, said she hoped the power would come back on in time for her husband's Halloween tradition of playing "Young Frankenstein" on a giant screen in front of their house.

"We would be really sad and it would disappoint a lot of people if we can't play 'Young Frankenstein,"' she said. But no matter what, they will make sure the eight or so children who live in the neighborhood don't miss out on trick-or-treating.

"Either way we will get the giant flashlights and we will go," she said.

She was already making the best of the power failure. After the lights went out around 4 p.m. Saturday, she invited neighbors over for an impromptu Halloween party with wine and quesadillas in front of her propane fireplace.

Across the region, many weather-weary Northeasterners were trying to take the storm in stride after a string of two harsh winters -- many communities set or approached snowfall records last winter -- followed by flooding from tropical systems Irene and Lee.

"You had this storm, you had Hurricane Irene, you had the flooding last spring and you had the nasty storms last winter," Tom Jacobsen said Sunday while getting coffee at a convenience store in Hamilton Township, N.J. "I'm starting to think we really ticked off Mother Nature somehow because we've been getting spanked by her for about a year now."

Doug Burdi, a scientist from Arlington, Mass., northwest of Boston, had the day off Monday because the pharmaceutical company he works for lost power. Burdi said he's not yet ready to worry about another harsh winter, despite the intensity of the early storm.

"Let's call it a freak. It makes us feel better when we think of it that way," he said. "I don't want to be fatalistic about it."

The National Weather Service acknowledged that residents shouldn't necessarily expect "Snowtober" a harbinger of a hard winter to come. Long-term models indicate a slightly drier start to the season, although there's a chance of above-normal precipitation later on, said Aaron Tyburski, a meteorologist in State College, Pa.

"There's always going to be anomalous events," he said. "While it is quite an event, we may go the next month and not get any snow."

Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Denise Lavoie in Boston; Michael Melia in Hartford, Conn.; Frank Eltman in Garden City, N.Y.; and Randy Pennell in Philadelphia.

 

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