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When the Northeast freezes over

An ice storm prompts many residents to be resourceful as power outages and slick roads make for frigid and dangerous conditions.

December 13, 2008|Erika Hayasaki and Joanna Lin | Hayasaki and Lin are Times staff writers.

NEW YORK — More than a million homes and businesses across the Northeast spent Friday without power after a bitterly cold storm swept across the region, coating roads with thick sheets of black ice and weighing down power lines and tree limbs with frozen daggers.

The storm, which began gusting through the region Thursday night, closed schools and public offices and interrupted travel across Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Connecticut and eastern New York. By Friday, entire communities had lost power.

Residents spent the day indoors preparing for a frigid, dark weekend of burning candles and firewood, while others scrambled to gas stations to load up on fuel for home generators. In some neighborhoods, power lines dripping with icicles snapped, and ice-burdened trees buckled, blocking roads and damaging homes and cars.

"In some places the ice was an inch thick," said Lauri Berlied of Concord, Mass. "Branches couldn't hold the weight of it."

Berlied operates the Colonel Roger Brown House, a historic inn built in 1775. On Friday, residents were flocking from miles away to her bed and breakfast, in search of a room with power and heat.

By evening, the inn was fully booked.

The 30-degree weather, combined with nearly 4 inches of rain in some Massachusetts areas, made for a dangerous mix.

The governors of Massachusetts and New Hampshire declared states of emergency.

In a news conference Friday, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick urged residents to "look after your own and your families' safety" and recommended that people miss work to avoid driving on treacherous roads. More than 350,000 were without power. Officials said they expected services to be restored by Monday, but Patrick called those estimates "ambitious."

In New Hampshire, Gov. John Lynch issued a statement warning of a continuing drop in temperatures and urging "all New Hampshire citizens to take sensible precautions and heed all warnings from public officials."

By Friday evening, New Hampshire was reporting 400,000 customers without power, according to Colin Manning, a spokesman for the governor's office.

The weather seemed to have eased up. "It has not rained in several hours," Manning said. "In fact, the sun was out."

In some places, snow had even begun to melt.

"It's like small waterfalls," said Margaret Mitchell of Hampstead, who runs the Stillmeadow Bed and Breakfast with her husband, William, in southeastern New Hampshire. Mitchell stayed warm Friday by blasting the old colonial home's three wood stoves.

She wasn't worried about running out of firewood. Outside the 158-year-old house are "plenty of trees, ready to go," Mitchell said. "We're being very resourceful."

Mitchell said her neighbors had pulled together to ensure they all had wood, water and food. For some on her street, the power outage has inspired creative solutions. With water pipes still frozen, residents lugged buckets and containers down the street, where sunlight was melting ice into a culvert, to collect water for their toilets.

Perhaps Mitchell's most valuable resource was her gas-powered generator. When she and her husband arrived in Hampstead from Scotland a year and a half ago, townspeople laughed that the couple had purchased the small generator.

"They said we'd never need it," said Mitchell, who insisted that it might come in handy some day. That day came Thursday, when Mitchell hooked up the generator to her refrigerator.

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erika.hayasaki@latimes.com

joanna.lin@latimes.com

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