Storm leaves hundreds of thousands in the dark

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- Utility crews were working feverishly to restore power to hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses in Pennsylvania and surrounding states that were still in the dark and cold on Thursday after an ice storm knocked out electricity to more than a million customers, damage one official likened to that from a hurricane.

The Northeast's second winter storm of the week dumped more than a foot of snow in some states on Wednesday, forcing schools, businesses and government offices to close, snarling air travel and sending cars and trucks sliding on slippery roads and highways - an all-too-familiar litany of misery in a winter where the storms seem to be tripping over each other.

What made this one stand out - and caused all those outages - was the thick coating of ice it left on trees and power lines. While the storm has long since cleared out, its effects are expected to linger for days.

"People are going to have to have some patience at this point," Gov. Tom Corbett said Wednesday, warning that an overnight refreeze could cause more problems on the roads Thursday. The governor issued a disaster emergency proclamation, freeing up state agencies to use all available resources and personnel.

"The damage that we are seeing in the field with the number of trees down, not only on lines but blocking roads and more, presents a number of logistical issues," Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher said. "This damage is very similar to what we see during hurricanes."

At its height, the storm knocked out power to nearly 849,000 customers in Pennsylvania, most of them in the counties around Philadelphia. Though sizeable, it's still less than the nearly 1.8 million that were left without power after Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

PECO, southeastern Pennsylvania's dominant utility, warned it could be until the weekend before the lights come back on for all of its more than 431,000 customers without power Thursday morning. FirstEnergy was reporting almost 49,000 customers without power, while PPL was reporting more than 20,000.

In neighboring Maryland, where 76,000 customers were in the dark, power companies gave a restoration estimate of Friday. More than 7,000 New Jersey customers also lacked electricity.

Officials pleaded with people not to use generators or gas grills indoors after 20 to 25 people in the Philadelphia area were taken to hospitals with carbon monoxide poisoning.

Robert Kagel, deputy director for emergency management in Chester County, told WCAU-TV that some of the more seriously injured were transferred to Philadelphia hospitals for treatment.

While some homeowners fired up generators, others, like Dave Dixon and his wife, are relying on the generosity of others to power them through. They planned to stay with their friends overnight Thursday - and possibly longer.

"If we wear out our welcome, we'll get a hotel," said Dixon, whose home in the Philadelphia suburbs went dark at 6 a.m. Wednesday.

In Wyncote, a town just north of Philadelphia, Hannah Reimer took to Facebook to ask for a kerosene heater and recommendations on where to buy the fuel.

"And it worked! Someone from my church, who has power, has a kerosene heater and my husband is picking it up now," she said Wednesday night.

Reimer and her husband then planned to pay it forward, inviting their neighbors to spend the night.

"Our neighbors don't have heat, either," she said. "Or a kerosene heater."

Thousands of utility workers descended on the Philadelphia suburbs to get the lights back on.

It was the second-worst storm in PECO's history - eclipsed only by Superstorm Sandy in 2012 - with the utility reporting 623,000 outages at one point Wednesday. "We know that this is going to take multiple days," PECO spokeswoman Cathy Engel Menendez said.

About 3,500 employees and contractors were working to restore power, while an additional 1,000 linemen from utilities as far as Chicago were expected to join the company's efforts, she said.

Several hospitals were running on backup generators. Most decided to cancel elective surgeries and out-patient testing.

Dr. John Kelly, chief of staff at Abington Memorial Hospital outside Philadelphia, one of the affected facilities, said critical staff needed for any emergencies would be staying overnight. He said the hospital had plenty of fuel and food.

The American Red Cross opened three shelters in southeastern Pennsylvania and stood ready to open more.

"We've been told to be prepared for four to six days. We are gathering staff and volunteers for up to a week," spokesman Dave Schrader said.

35 PHOTOS
Snow storm Feb. 4-5
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Storm leaves hundreds of thousands in the dark
A man inspects an ice covered downed tree that took out an utility line and landed atop a minivan, after a winter storm Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014, in Philadelphia. Icy conditions have knocked out power to more than 200,000 electric customers in southeastern Pennsylvania and prompted school and legislative delays as well as speed reductions on major roadways. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Ice blanketing the Hanover area. #pawx http://t.co/OUtqiuPZU1
my Duane Reade in Union Square..scary. http://t.co/Bg30wl81eO
A car drives around a fallen tree, as a SEPTA train creeps along tracks nearby Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014, in Bensalem, Pa. Train service was disrupted Wednesday because icy conditions created a dangerous situation. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
Men try to clear the streets of snow and slush on Broadway near Lincoln Center February 5, 2014 in New York after an overnight storm dropped more snow in the area. AFP PHOTO/Stan HONDA (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)
A snow plow clears U.S. Route 20 during a snowfall Wednesday morning, Feb. 5, 2014, in Marlborough, Mass. Up to a foot of snow was predicted in some parts of Massachusetts. (AP Photo/Bill Sikes)
United States Postal Service vehicles sit covered with snow in a parking lot Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014, in Marlborough, Mass., as up to a foot of snow was predicted in parts of Massachusetts. (AP Photo/Bill Sikes)
An ice covered tree limb that took out a utility line blocks the path of a firetruck after a winter storm Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014, in Philadelphia. Icy conditions have knocked out power to more than 200,000 electric customers in southeastern Pennsylvania and prompted school and legislative delays as well as speed reductions on major roadways. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 05: A man carries a girl across a snowy street on February 5, 2014 in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York, United States. New York and surrounding regions were hit with yet another snow storm today, bringing snow and ice over night, and sleet and freezing rain during theday. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
An overturned car lies on Highway 416, a few miles south of Henderson, Ky., Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014. According to Kentucky State Police, Shelby Below, 18, with her brother Dalton Below, 15, in the car, hit a slick spot while returning home from school, went off on the shoulder, hit a tree stump and flipped. Dalton Below was transported to a hospital, for evaluation of a possible head injury. (AP Photo/The Gleaner, Mike Lawrence)
A businessman carries an umbrella, and a dress shirt on a hanger, while making his way through slush and snow in New York's Times Square, Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014. While New York City public schools remain open, there are transit delays in the area's subways, commuter rail lines and airports. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 05: A man uses cardboard to cover himself while walking down a snowy street during a snow storm on February 5, 2014 in the Lower East Side neighborhood of New York, United States. New York and surrounding regions were hit with yet another snow storm today, bringing snow and ice over night, and sleet and freezing rain during theday. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 05: People board a bus on February 5, 2014 in the Lower East Side neighborhood of New York, United States. New York and surrounding regions were hit with yet another snow storm today, bringing snow and ice over night, and sleet and freezing rain during theday. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 05: People attempt to walk across a snowy street during a snow storm on February 5, 2014 in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York, United States. New York and surrounding regions were hit with yet another snow storm today, bringing snow and ice over night, and sleet and freezing rain during theday. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 05: Men shovel a snowy sidewalk on February 5, 2014 in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York, United States. New York and surrounding regions were hit with yet another snow storm today, bringing snow and ice over night, and sleet and freezing rain during theday. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
A woman uses an umbrella against the freezing rain as she passes the New York Stock Exchange, Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014. New York City's sanitation commissioner says some secondary streets still need plowing but overall snow removal was going well. Around 6 inches of snow are expected in parts of the metropolitan area on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Juan Garcia shovels snow from a sidewalk in New York's Times Square, Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014. While New York City public schools remain open, there are transit delays in the area's subways, commuter rail lines and airports. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
A pedestrian walks in the snow in the Center Square neighborhood on Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014, in Albany, N.Y. Hundreds of schools across upstate New York are closed and authorities are advising against any unnecessary travel as a snowstorm moves across the region. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
A woman walks in the snow in front of the state Capitol on Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014, in Albany, N.Y. Hundreds of schools across upstate New York are closed and authorities are advising against any unnecessary travel as a snowstorm moves across the region. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
A man crosses the street in front of the Illinois State Capitol Complex during a snowstorm Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014, in Springfield, Ill. Just as the East Coast digs out from a canopy of wet, heavy snow, more of the same is moving through the Midwest and heading east again. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
A worker clears snow from the sidewalk along Massachusetts Street in Lawrence, Kan., Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
A county truck clears snow from the intersection of Douglas County roads 1 and 458 near Lone Star, Kan., Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
A crossing guard helps school children navigate a snow covered street in traffic during a snowstorm Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014, in Springfield, Ill. Just as the East Coast digs out from a canopy of wet, heavy snow, more of the same is moving through the Midwest and heading east again. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
Sledders enjoy a snowy Central Park in New York, Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014. The National Weather Service said Monday's storm, which brought 8 inches of snow to New York City, will be followed by a new storm in the Midwest on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
A woman makes her way past the Illinois State Capitol during a fast moving snow storm Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014, in Springfield, Ill. Just as the East Coast digs out from a canopy of wet, heavy snow, more of the same is moving through the Midwest and heading east again. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
Traffic travels west on a snow packed I-70 near Lawrence, Kan., Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014. Schools throughout Kansas canceled classes and state government ground to a halt Tuesday as residents dealt with a winter storm that brought heavy snow across the state (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
A man rides his bike near the Illinois State Capitol Complex during a snowstorm Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014, in Springfield, Ill. Just as the East Coast digs out from a canopy of wet, heavy snow, more of the same is moving through the Midwest and heading east again. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
People walk through a snow-covered Central Park in New York, Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014. The National Weather Service said Monday's storm, which brought 8 inches of snow to New York City, will be followed by a new storm in the Midwest on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
A jogger and pedestrian cross a snowy Jayhawk Boulevard on the University of Kansas campus in Lawrence, Kan., Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014. A major winter storm brought heavy snow Tuesday across much of Kansas, threatening the Topeka area with up to a foot of snow. Kansas government ground to a halt as lawmakers postponed legislative work and state departments urged their workers to stay home. Schools throughout the state canceled classes. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
Heavy snow packs Kansas 10 at its junction with the Kansas Turnpike, Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014, near Lecompton, Kan. A winter storm has shut down schools across Kansas and prompted government offices to close. (AP Photo/John Hanna)
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Associated Press writers Marc Levy and Mark Scolforo in Harrisburg, Kevin Begos in Pittsburgh, and Maryclaire Dale and Matt Moore in Philadelphia contributed to this report.

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