LITCHFIELD, Maine — Utility crews from Maine to Michigan and into Canada worked Wednesday to restore power to the more than half a million homes in the U.S. and Canada that were left in the dark by last weekend’s ice storm and people slowly trickled out of shelters to spend Christmas Day at their finally-warm homes.
But not everyone was so lucky, including Ashley Walter, who was forced to spend Christmas at a shelter set up in a school in Litchfield, Maine, with her husband, Jacob, and their month-old daughter, Leah.
The family lost power Saturday, got it back temporarily then lost it again Sunday and have been without since. Ashley, 27, and Leah stay warm at the shelter while Jacob makes frequent trips home to check on their cats and water pipes.
“It’s definitely kind of strange but we’re hanging in there,” she said Wednesday of the challenge of being forced out of their home at Christmas. “We did our Christmas together last night. I packed little stockings and gave them to my husband, sisters and my daughter.”
The frigid temperatures that cloaked a region from the Great Lakes to New England meant that ice remained on power lines and limbs. Officials worried that wind gusts of more than 20 mph could bring down more branches and that 2 to 6 inches of snow in places on Thursday would hamper line crews trying to get to remote spots.
“We’ve had two beautiful, sunny days in Maine and the ice isn’t going anyplace,” said Lynette Miller, spokeswoman for the Maine Emergency Management Agency. “They’re very concerned about more weight coming down on trees that are already compromised by ice.”
The ice storm last weekend was one of the worst to hit during a Christmas week and repair crews were working around the clock to restore service. States that weren’t hit were sending crews to help.
So far, authorities blame the storm for 27 deaths; 17 in the U.S. and 10 in Canada. Five people in Canada died from carbon monoxide poisoning from emergency generators powering their homes, while two people in Michigan, a man in Maine and a man in Vermont also died from the poisonous fumes.
In Michigan, police say a 73-year-old woman died Christmas Eve when she ran a stop light that was out of service because of the ice storm.
About 156,000 homes were still without power Wednesday evening in Michigan, down from more than 500,000 at the storm’s peak.
In Canada, about 160,000 customers were without power Wednesday evening. There were 72,000 customers without power in Toronto, down from 300,000 at the height of the outages, and Mayor Rob Ford said some may not have power restored until the weekend.
Back in Maine, Trudy Lamoreau was supervising the emergency shelter where about 25 people stayed Tuesday night. Lamoreau, who’s also the town manager, said they warmed the shelter with generators until the school got power back late Tuesday night. Maine still had about 60,000 people without power, down from a high of 106,000.
“People are doing quite well considering the circumstances,” she said.
Volunteers tried to make the shelter homey, including cooking up a ham dinner with potatoes, vegetables, bread and pie for dessert for Christmas.
“They have been amazing,” Walter said, adding that the volunteers set up a separate room for her and Leah so they wouldn’t disturb others when the infant woke during the night. “They just try to make everything better for us.”
Associated Press writers David Goodman in Detroit and Rik Stevens in Concord, N.H., contributed to this report.
Trees frozen in ice cripple a section of power lines on Maplehurst Drive in Belgrade, Maine, Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2013. From Michigan to Maine, hundreds of thousands remain without power days after a massive ice storm _ which one utility called the largest Christmas-week storm in its history _ blacked out homes and businesses in the Great Lakes and Northeast. (AP Photo/The Central Maine Morning Sentinel, Michael G. Seamans)
Utility crews respond to a downed power line at the intersection of Dorset Street and Kennedy Drive in South Burlington, Vt., on Monday, Dec. 23, 2013. From Michigan to Maine, hundreds of thousands remain without power days after a massive ice storm _ which one utility called the largest Christmas-week storm in its history _ blacked out homes and businesses in the Great Lakes and Northeast. (AP Photo/Burlington Free Press, Glenn Russell)
Family Farm & Home of Mason employees and Dean Haynes, left, and Bobby Hollon load a generator into Nathan Timm’s truck, Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2013. Timm, of Ovid, was buying the generator for his parents, who live in Barry County and are without electricity. (AP Photo/Lansing State Journal, Matthew Dae Smith)
Carla Coulter, 46, of Clio, holds her 1-year-old grandson Connor Hergert closely as she gives him a kiss on the forehead while listening to the FirstMerit Bank Mixed Chorus sing “Silent Night” along with about 100 spectators during the 76th Annual Holiday Sing on Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2013 at FirstMerit Bank in downtown Flint, Mich. “We don’t have power. We’re warming up, and I just feel so very blessed to have my family,” Coulter said. “I don’t need anything else.” (AP Photo/The Flint Journal, Jake May) LOCAL TV OUT; LOCAL INTERNET OUT
Trees and power lines grow heavy with ice as freezing rain continues into Monday morning, Dec. 23, 2013, in Cambridge, Vt. From Michigan to Maine, hundreds of thousands remain without power days after a massive ice storm _ which one utility called the largest Christmas-week storm in its history _ blacked out homes and businesses in the Great Lakes and Northeast. (AP Photo/Burlington Free Press, Emily McManamy)
Jake Baldino, left, and Mick Benbow of K & T Electric of DeWitt replace an electrical box and pole to a home in DeWitt Township, Mich., Monday, Dec. 23, 2013. From Michigan to Maine, hundreds of thousands remain without power days after a massive ice storm _ which one utility called the largest Christmas-week storm in its history _ blacked out homes and businesses in the Great Lakes and Northeast. (AP Photo/Lansing State Journal, Greg DeRuiter)
Andrew Powers, an arborist with Asplundh Tree Experts, clears iced branches from power lines along Mayflower Heights Drive in Waterville, Maine, on Monday, Dec. 23, 2013. Central Maine Power said nearly 57,000 were without power Monday afternoon, up from 29,000 it had been reporting earlier. Hardest hit was Kennebec County with about 20,000 and Waldo County at nearly 15,000 customers without power. (AP Photo/Morning Sentinel, Michael G. Seamans)