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Thousands in shelters after US ice storm outages

world Updated: Jan 31, 2009 11:24 IST
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Utility crews made some progress on Friday in restoring power to a million homes and businesses darkened by an ice storm that crippled states from Missouri to West Virginia, but thousands were still holed up in makeshift shelters because their homes had no water or heat.

Since the storm began Monday, the weather has been blamed for at least 42 deaths. Emergency officials feared that toll could rise if people stay in their homes without power for too long, because improper use of generators can cause carbon monoxide poisoning. Utility companies struggled through ice-encrusted debris into Friday morning as they worked to restore power, but warned it may not return until Saturday at the earliest. It could take until mid-February for some to come back online in the hardest-hit areas of Kentucky and Arkansas.

"I know everybody, including myself, would like this to be over today, tomorrow or yesterday," said Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, who toured some of the damage Thursday. "It's going to take several days, if not weeks, to dig our way through all of this all across the state."

Deputies trekked door-to-door in many communities to let people know the location of shelters, forced to spread the word the old-fashioned way because cell phone and Internet service was spotty. In some towns, volunteers checked to make sure their elderly and disabled neighbors were all right.

Many Kentucky hotels offering discounted "power outage rates" reported being fully booked with people escaping frosty neighborhoods. Those who hunkered down in their homes faced long lines to buy generators, firewood, groceries, even bottled water because power outages crippled local pumping stations.

Roads were still littered with ice-caked power lines, downed trees and other debris. Help from around the country was arriving in convoys to assist the states with the worst outages. Truckloads of ready-to-eat meals, water and generators from the Federal Emergency Management Agency were expected to arrive Friday at a staging area in Fort Campbell, Kentucky, said Mary Hudak, a spokeswoman for FEMA's southeast region.

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