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Ice storm's wake leaves power customers in dark

February 7th, 2014 6:35 am by MARK SCOLFORO, Associated Press

Ice storm's wake leaves power customers in dark

In this Feb. 5 photo a man inspects an ice covered downed tree that took out an utility line and landed atop a minivan, after a winter storm in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Utility crews aren't getting much relief from the weather as they work to restore electricity to hundreds of thousands of people in Pennsylvania and Maryland, two days after an ice storm downed power lines and trees.

Forecasters said the cold weather gripping the mid-Atlantic on Friday should remain in place through the weekend, and snow was possible.

Utility companies reported more than 325,000 customers without power in Pennsylvania, along with about 50,000 in Maryland. Officials have said they hope to have most of them back online by the end of the day Friday, but in some cases it may take much of the weekend.

PECO, the dominant electricity provider in the Philadelphia area, reports more than 288,000 customers out Friday morning in the five-county area. First Energy has about 27,550, almost all west of the city in York County, where there are also almost 4,000 PECO customers without power. And PPL reports 5,728 outages, most of them in Lancaster County, also west of Philadelphia.

Amtrak, meanwhile, says full service between Philadelphia and Harrisburg is being restored today after tracks have been cleared of fallen trees and debris, but riders may see delays of up to one-half hour.

Crews from as far away as Canada and Arkansas have been called in to help out, and officials are comparing the scope of the damage to a hurricane. Some who might not get power back for several days sought warmth — or at least somewhere to recharge their batteries — in shopping malls, public libraries and hastily established shelters.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett said after an aerial survey of the storm's aftermath on Thursday that crews put a priority on restoring electricity to hospitals, nursing homes, communications facilities and sewer plants.

"This storm is in some respects as bad or maybe even worse than Hurricane Sandy," he said during an appearance in the Philadelphia suburbs. He said a shipment of electrical generators from the federal government was on its way to Pennsylvania.

He said he was urging electric utilities "to move as fast as they can, but they have to do it within the parameters of safety."

About 200 people took advantage of seven shelters in three suburban Philadelphia counties, according to the American Red Cross of Southeastern Pennsylvania. Shelters also were open in central Pennsylvania.

The Northeast's second winter storm of the week dumped more than a foot of snow in some places on Wednesday, forcing schools, businesses and government offices to close, snarling air travel and sending cars and trucks sliding on slippery roads and highways. It also left a thick coating of ice on trees and power lines.

"Many of them already had a coating of snow on them," said Mark Durbin, a spokesman for the utility FirstEnergy. "It's that weight that crushes our equipment. Multiply that by hundreds of locations."

Corbett said utility companies were ramping up to have about 5,000 people working to reconnect customers.

Thursday saw the lower 48 states record what is likely to be their lowest average temperature of the season, just 11 degrees.

Forecasters said it would remain chilly through the weekend in the mid-Atlantic, with daytime highs around freezing and overnight lows in the teens. Light snow was expected over the weekend.

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