Hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses sat cold and dark across the Northeast on Saturday as utility crews backed by National Guardsmen hacked through the wreckage of trees brought down by a vast ice storm.
Utilities cautioned that it could be days before all power is restored, or even weeks in some places.
“The first day it was cool, now it’s old already,” said Pat Belina of Watertown, N.Y., who said she and her entire family were sleeping in one bed to keep warm at night.
President Clinton declared a federal state of emergency Saturday for a five-county area of northern New York state, where Gov. George Pataki asked the federal government for blankets, food, drinking water and a truckload of diapers.
Local states of emergency were in effect in parts of Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.
In Maine two people died from apparent carbon monoxide poisoning while trying to heat their homes with generators.
In Waterville, a man and his wife were overcome by carbon monoxide as they slept Friday night. The 58-year-old man died. His 66-year-old wife was in critical conditon. In Newport, a 73-year-old man died, apparently from carbon monoxide poisoning.
In both cases, the generators were in the basement, but there was no ventilation.
Last week’s huge storm system caused floods across the South and spread thick ice across the Northeast and the eastern third of Canada, where 11 deaths had been blamed on the storm. Seven deaths were counted in Tennessee flooding plus two in North Carolina.
In Maine, Central Maine Power Co. said an estimated 229,000 homes and businesses were still without power Saturday evening and Bangor Hydro Electric Co. said it couldn’t guess. “We’ve stopped trying to count,” said Bangor Hydro spokesman Bill Cohen.
New Hampshire utilities still had about 40,000 homes and businesses without electricity and Vermont had some 9,000 blacked out. New York utilities did not have figures for homes and businesses but estimated the blackouts affected half a million people.
Estimates put more than 7,330 people staying in 127 shelters in upstate New York.
Sun and warming temperatures both helped and hurt Saturday. Ice coating trees in layers up to 2 inches thick began to melt and fell in glittering chunks that crashed to the ground and endangered utility crews.