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Thousands brace for more cold, dark days

For the first time in days, the sun was shining and skies were blue when Doug Jennings stepped outside his home Tuesday in central Maine. But the power that disappeared in a massive weekend ice storm? It was still out, setting up his family for a very cold and very dark Christmas Eve.

“It’s going to be problematic. We’re going to have to do something about it, go to a hotel or whatever,” said Jennings, who lives in one of several towns near Augusta that were almost completely blacked out. “I don’t know.”

Jennings and his family were among the half a million utility customers – from Maine to Michigan and into Canada – who lost power in a weekend ice storm that one utility called the worst during a Christmas week in its history. Repair crews worked around the clock Tuesday to restore service, but like Jennings, thousands prepared for a holiday at home without electricity or packed up their wrapped gifts and headed off to stay with family or friends.

They faced doing so on a white Christmas, too. The National Weather Service said more snow was expected to move into the Northern High Plains and Central Rockies on Tuesday before rolling into the Great Lakes and Midwest by this morning.

The nationwide death toll from the storm reached at least 14 on Tuesday, when a 50-year-old man in Knox, Maine, was overcome by carbon monoxide fumes from a generator. It was the second reported death attributed to fumes from a generator during the storm. Police in Michigan also attributed two deaths in a traffic collision that happened Monday to the storm.

At his home outside Augusta, Maine’s capital, Jennings had only a propane stove to keep his home warm. With visitors in town for Christmas, he worried about what they’re going to do if their heat and lights remain off and the temperature dips into the single digits Tuesday night as forecast.

His family took some of the food they’ve been planning to serve at Christmas and put it in a snow bank – a move they learned from their experience in the last big ice storm that left some Mainers without power for weeks nearly 20 years ago.

“But we have Christmas food that’s probably going to be all bad,” he said. “My wife says ‘I don’t feel like doing the kids’ stockings or anything.’ ”

The number of customers in Maine without power spiked to more than 100,000 on Tuesday, even as Central Maine Power Co. sent more than 1,000 workers to help restore power throughout the state. The company’s goal was to restore power for all customers by Thursday night, while other utilities in Maine warned customers they could be without electricity until Friday.

In Michigan, Jackson-based Consumers Energy, the state’s largest utility, said close to 17 percent of its 1.8 million electric customers lost power during the storm that hit late Saturday; roughly 152,000 remained without it Tuesday.